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Many people picture a future with robots walking among us, where artificial intelligence has developed so much that these cyborgs are barely distinguishable from humans. Maybe that’s how Earth will one day be; a world where people have as many interactions with programmed “people” as they do regular humans.
Or maybe we’re already there.
Chatbots, or programmed, artificial-intelligence systems that mimic a human and can be communicated with via a text messaging interface, are taking over the web. In fact, many web 2.0 sites already have them. You may know them as the annoying icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen offering to chat, or you may not know them at all. Either way, hundreds of brands (including Disney, HTC and H&M) have already implemented them, and it’s worth taking the time to find out what they are and how your company can use them.
The Robots Rise from the Ashes of Apps
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One of the largest driving factors in the rise of chatbots was, believe it or not, the decline of apps. U.S. mobile app downloads have decreased 38% since December 2014, according to research from Adobe. Users don’t want a cluttered phone and are growing less likely to try new apps. However, this is where bots come into play. Bots that integrate seamlessly into the apps people already use, like Twitter, Facebook Messenger and Slack, are experiencing great success. Users are already used to these apps, and therefore are comfortable with these interfaces delivering an app experience through a bot said Mike Roberts, head of messaging at Kik, to NBC.
A New Field for an Old Concept
While chatbots feel new to many of us, they build off a fairly old concept that we’re all familiar with. Any interface that takes responses and translates them into potential solutions for the user is essentially a chatbot. This hearkens back to dialing answers on a customer service call to get the help you need, rather than speaking with an associate. Even chatbots as we know them now have made past appearances. Jabberwacky was launched in 1997 by Rollo Carpenter and was programmed to have humorous conversations with users. The polished, machine-learning enabled version known as Cleverbot was already being tested in 2011 and hit the mainstream only a few years later. But, what does this mean for your business?
Branding with ‘Bots
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Chatbots, first and foremost, can be yet another opportunity for your company to establish its brand. By working with a company like imperson, or by programming your own, bots can be made to reflect the personality of either your business, a mascot for your business or even yourself. This can cement your company’s fun loving attitude with conversational humor or provide a caring tone for your hospitality business. These tools are just another way to show potential consumers who you are and what you’re all about. Ironically, it seems bots are making marketing more human than ever.
Chatbots can also personalize marketing. JustEat, a food order and delivery service, saw a 266% higher conversion rate than an average social media ad with their new chatbot. This is because chatbots learn from their users. The program can identify the demographic and preferences of a user in just a few short questions, and can than create a custom advertisement based on these inputs.
Plenty of Possibilities
Branding is a huge opportunity, but there’s obviously many more things that chatbots can be used for. One popular function is for online marketplaces. Newer chatbots can handle purchases for customers, acting like a sales associate might on the shop floor. By gauging the users responses and preferences, products can be selected for or even designed specifically for them.
Perhaps the most useful application is customer service. A simple bot that walks struggling users through just ten common FAQ’s can cut down a majority of your help requests, leaving your customer service reps fully available to handle those remaining. This is an easy fix to save time, money and effort.
Don’t Fall Victim to a Robot Apocalypse
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Although chatbots are clearly a great opportunity that’s taking the marketing field by storm, there are some flaws. For example, Microsoft launched their own chatbot named “Tay” to engage with young adults over Twitter, and then give responses learned from them. While at first performing great, targeted attacks replaced the bots lexicon with slurs and hate speech, forcing Microsoft to pull the plug. Clearly, some time needs to be dedicated to filtering. Another big danger happens when users trust bots to much. Someone can easily replicate a well-known companies bot on a messaging service, and then use it to try and grab credit card numbers and other info from fooled users.
Even beyond these larger dangers are the negative impacts a bad bot can have on your brand. Not everyone needs chatbots. If they don’t make things easier for your client, don’t have one just to have one. The appeal of chatbots lies in the convenience and opportunities they create. Also, if you decide to add one, make sure it falls in line with your brand and provides a positive experience for the user. After all, the best chatbots don’t feel like bots at all.
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