It’s not because they’ll eventually evolve into sentient beings who can spy on you through your devices and rule your life. It’s because as more bots appear on the scene, early adopters will be able to take advantage of ready and available marketing data through bot technology now, before their competitors do.
“There are first-mover advantages for the taking now, but if you don’t take advantage of them, a competitor will.” Charles Golvin , Research Director, Gartner for Marketers
Bots are consumer-facing software agents designed to execute an action or task, through voice activation and natural language processing technologies. Everyone has been exposed to a bot at some point, be it online via a customer service channel or in the form of Siri, Cortana, Alexa… the list goes on. Some of these bots are also available through social media applications such as Facebook Messenger and communication channels such as Slack.
Why are they so popular though? For various reasons, depending on the user application. But three main reasons are because bots:
- Never rest, so if you go online for chat help in the middle of the night or day, it’s always on-hand to assist, regardless of where you are on the globe
- Enable consumers to execute transactions, such as ordering a cab while getting ready in the mornings using only their voice, thus enabling hands-free multi-tasking
- Help remove friction which may arise online or even from face to face customer interaction
- What this all means is that the fluid interplay of customer service and predictive marketing now exists to efficiently predict a consumer’s unspoken needs and wants, which opens up an entirely new set of data to analyze. According to IDC, this data will reach 44 zettabytes by 2020. So, if for some unfathomable reason you still haven’t gotten in control of your data, get set to be buried under more.
What this all means is that the fluid interplay of customer service and predictive marketing now exists to efficiently predict a consumer’s unspoken needs and wants, which opens up an entirely new set of data to analyze. According to IDC, this data will reach 44 zettabytes by 2020. So, if for some unfathomable reason you still haven’t gotten in control of your data, get set to be buried under more.
Chatbots in Retail
eMarketer predicts that 25% of the world’s population will be using chat apps by 2019, with APAC leading that growth. As mobile penetration continues to increase across the region, making it well-placed in the middle of the chatbot revolution, it is nothing new, as Chinese instant-messaging platform WeChat has shown over the years. However, as the technology behind chatbots becomes more sophisticated, the application of chatbots by brands and retailers will need to follow suit.
When it comes to retail, the most obvious use for a chatbot is to play the role of a shop floor assistant, online. In the greater scheme of things, this presents a golden opportunity for retailers to not just develop their own bot, but also to collaborate easily with one another.
Take for example the Uber and Facebook Messenger tie-up, where users can now request rides by sending a message to the Uber chatbot, without actually having to download the Uber app. And it’s not industry-specific nor limited to just the tech space either. Below is a quick list of how some brands and retailers are jumping on the bot-wagon:
- Beauty – Sephora uses chatbots to drive consumer discovery of products through tips and images
- Fashion – H&M uses bots as customer service tools to aid consumer purchase decisions and deliver “personal” assistance by putting together outfits based on preference
- Malls – On a larger scale, CapitaLand (with several major Singapore malls under its belt) has a chatbot called Sparkle which can help shoppers find items they wish to buy, and suggest retailers within that may carry the item.
There is of course an adoption and learning curve to be expected. Several argue that it is simply easier to visit a brand’s online site and you’ll be able to get the same information. However, having to search for things take time; many prefer the convenience of asking a question, and getting a reply quickly, which is why Livechats are very popular.
But what happens when you’re shopping after-hours or at midnight and need some assistance? This where chatbots can help!
The Key is Communication
Most bots “learn” or function through communication, albeit sometimes to their detriment as shown by Microsoft’s Tay.
But given over 2.5 billion people worldwide are hooked up online from WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger, chatbots are one of the most obvious uses for bots, and relatively easy to implement.
As recent as May this year, Twitter rolled out a bot-like feature within its DM service. Called Direct Message Card, it is meant to enable brands to interact more frequently with customers, in an effort to improve the customer experience.
Facebook on the other hand, is testing a service to enable users to make payments on Facebook Messenger that are facilitated with the use of bots built on its platform, in line with its aim to be the WeChat of the Western world. Popular gaming platform Twitch has a slightly more altruistic purpose – it is using bots to help ward off trolls and cyber-bullying online.
Personalization is becoming increasingly vital in converting site visitors into potential buyers, and chatbots clearly offer great opportunities for retailers looking to engage consumers in a more intimate manner. After all, what’s more personal than someone feeling like they’re having a chat with a friend who can help?
Many argue that people don’t want to talk to a bot, but there is an undeniable shift in consumer behavior as it becomes more common. This means retailers will have to consider more interactive (and creative) forms of engagement.
By leveraging chatbots, retailers will be able to deliver better customer understanding while providing them with more tailored messages, services and options.
* The above article first appeared in Enterprise Innovation.