Bots are a hot topic of interest in the news today. Most likely, you’ve heard about them in the context of customer support or information-related tasks. But what are they, where did they come from, and what do they mean to the everyday marketer?
Being somewhat entrenched in the martech landscape, we know that bots are actually not so new. They’ve been around for quite a while but haven’t gone mainstream. The reason for this is simple. As technology has evolved in parallel with natural-language programming and artificial intelligence, developing and deploying bots has become easier.
This is certainly behind the rapid growth of the bot industry which, according to Allied Market Research, is projected to reach $2.1 billion by 2024, growing at a 29.7% rate from 2018 to 2024.
The evolution of the bot phenomenon is very similar to the transformation of website development. It used to take over a year to develop a website, requiring specific expertise and technology. Today, thanks to a rapid evolution in tech, individuals with no coding knowledge can have a website up and running in a couple of days. We see the same change happening with chatbots. Some experts say that in less than a year or two, marketers will have the ability to design and implement their own bots quickly and cheaply.
Online chatbots save time and effort by automating customer support. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, over 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human.
A chatbot is a computer program or an artificial intelligence which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.
The most common place to see this in action is a marketing funnel or customer service interaction. For example, someone visits your website and gets the opportunity to chat with an agent. Well, that agent may not be a live person but a computer interaction. We see bots setting appointments, taking notes in a meeting (yes, there’s a bot for that), scheduling a limo or checking you in for a flight.
But not all interactions are that sophisticated.
Many bots deployed in the market are simple bots. Essentially, they have been preprogrammed to give a standard response to a range of queries. Like an FAQ, there are only so many questions and answers being offered multiple times. Simple bots work well for defined tasks such as answering product-related questions, scheduling or navigating between two critical points in a purchase decision funnel.
These bots use basic programming or natural language programming. Simple bots are preloaded with fixed scenarios and responses. But don’t be fooled: Creating and deploying even simple bots can be challenging because architects need a deep understanding of the consumer buying journey, most frequently asked questions, etc.
More sophisticated chatbots, “smart bots,” are implemented using artificial intelligence. Although still developing, smart bots are able to collect and process huge amounts of data from real customer interactions. This information is processed and refined to get better at a given task or scenario. Over time, AI is improving workflow and interactions, helping prospects or customers reach their desired outcome more quickly and with less frustration.
We see chatbots being more readily deployed in sales and service. This is especially true as more SaaS providers of chatbot technology emerge and tools are developed for individual companies to program their own chatbot experience.
The goal of using a chatbot is to move potential buyers and customers toward specific outcomes efficiently. If deployed correctly, chatbots can provide a huge boon for businesses and marketers who want to improve service levels while reducing costs. However, if poorly implemented, we’re afraid it will be more like an endless phone tree that frustrates customers and turns promoters into detractors.
The first step to leveraging a chatbot at your organization is to think about why you need a chatbot. Are there common routines or tasks that can be streamlined? Do you receive multiple requests from customers that can be consolidated? In addition to improving the speed at which companies respond to customer’s requests, if deployed correctly, chatbots can improve the user experience and build brand loyalty.
There are a number of potential benefits from a consumer perspective to using chatbots. However, much of the research on the topic is vendor specific, so be sure to test on a small scale before deploying this technology fully. Consider potential benefits of productivity for both the consumers receiving assistance or access to requested information, engagement and cost savings.
If the idea of implementing a chatbot gets you excited, it’s time to explore. There are a growing number of martech solutions for implementing chatbot technology on your website or within your organization. We’re still evolving, though. What we consider to be interesting technology today may shortly become the norm. As a marketer, it’s important to watch the evolution of chatbots closely and stay current with the ways leading companies are implementing them.