You’ve probably heard of chatbots. Chances are, you’ve even interacted with one. Those pop-up windows on websites asking if you need help? Yup, those are chatbots – albeit the early versions of them.
While the technology isn’t new, the improvements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and internet speeds have breathed new life into the concept. As a result, chatbots are becoming much more efficient, friendlier, and more conversational – slowly but surely, they are becoming more human-like.
Why are chatbots such a huge draw for businesses?
One of the most important rules of marketing is to always be where your audience is. And for the first time ever, messaging apps are more popular than social networks. Monthly active users for the top four messaging apps have outnumbered those on the top four social networks – and this presents a huge opportunity for brands and marketers.
“People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point,” says Peter Rojas, Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks. “Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.”
Ease-of-use makes chatbots perfect for consumers
Unlike websites and mobile apps which use different visual interfaces, chatbots are largely the same across the board – they all use text, or language, as an interface.
If you think about it, language is the interface that’s used universally, and it’s the one that comes most naturally to us. Chatbots strip away the visual interfaces that distract us and enable us to communicate in the way we’re used to – through conversation, in our very own language.
What’s more, chatbots negate the need to download applications or websites, which saves us time and valuable space on our hardware. Simply start a conversation with the bot through your messenger app, and you’re away.
It’s this ease of use that has led some industry experts to surmise that chatbots could one day replace mobile apps and websites as a means of B2C communication – a brave prediction, considering that these new incarnations of chatbots are still in their early stages.
It’s only going to get better
Many people are still fairly skeptical of chatbots, and their hesitance is understandable. As with early mobile applications and websites, chatbots are still experiencing some growing pains as developers, marketers and creatives familiarise themselves with the ins-and-outs of the technology, and figure out how to best use it.
The man behind Facebook’s launch of Messenger bots, executive VP of messaging products David Marcus, acknowledged the teething issues.
“The same thing happened with the first apps and websites,” Marcus said. “The first couple of bots on Messenger were really bad. But six months in, we’re really starting to see good experiences on Messenger.”
According to Marcus, there are now 33,000 developers who have written 34,000 chatbots for Messenger – and they’re constantly improving them as they go along.
Quality of content can make or break a chatbot
What’s become clear from these initial chatbot experiences is that quality content is key to a chatbot’s success. As a service-based technology, chatbots have to be at least as useful as its website counterparts to really work – they have to be able to provide users with the information they seek based on the most basic prompt.
It’s why the most successful bots are created with a clear, single-minded purpose – whether it’s finding the product you need, getting news or information updates, or helping solve specific issues. This purpose helps define the parameters of the chatbot and informs the complex decision tree that users will embark on, so this network of questions and content is as attuned to users’ needs and desires as possible.
And while developers are still working on improving chatbots through artificial intelligence and machine learning, the ultimate aim is to create chatbots that are connected to and constantly learning from huge databases of content – so they can provide useful answers and solutions in a way that traditional websites can’t.
Creator of Chatbots Magazine, Matt Schlicht, believes that this is where chatbots can really excel. “In the future, talking to a bot will be like talking to a real person who has instant access to entire databases of information and can process your thoughts and desires instantly.”
Great copywriting is key to bringing chatbots to life
Chatbots are all about conversation – the continuous, engaging volley of banter. It’s why copywriting plays a central role to chatbots’ success, because nobody wants to strike up a conversation with a monotonous, boring persona, human or not.
In lieu of visual cues, chatbots rely on distinctive tone-of-voice and content to differentiate themselves. This is also what gives them personality, which makes them seem “human” and more engaging to consumers. Whether it’s cringe-worthy dad jokes by Fatherly.com for Father’s Day, or Amazon Alexa’s and Siri’s all-knowing, serene tones, the “voice” of a chatbot can work wonders to really bring a brand’s identity to life.
As David Ilkovich, founder of chatbot creation platform Dexter, put it: “In the chatbot era, writers are the new designers. They are becoming more and more responsible for the early impression a customer gets from your brand.”
As part of this focus on tone, many writers have been turning to humour as an effective way of building a persona, and as a way to deflect awkward questions or cover up any shortcomings.
In a recent Wired article, Emma Coats, who’s working on Google Assistant’s personality, explains: “We don’t want to have to fall back on something like, ‘I don’t understand’. That draws the attention back to you instead of continuing the conversation you’re building.”
These little nuances go a long way towards building a bot’s personality – because it’s these little nuances that give bots an unexpected depth and character. Just like our quirks and flaws make us seem more approachable, bots with distinctive mannerisms come across as more authentic and “human”.
Facebook recently launched the latest version of the Messenger platform with a new feature – News Feed ads that allow users to connect directly with the advertiser’s bot. All you have to do is click or tap the ad, and voila – you’re having a one-on-one interaction with the brand.
Marcus is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “For the first time, advertisers can use the targeting capabilities of news feed to reach a very wide audience and then go one-to-one inside Messenger.”
This also means more personalised consumer journeys: “You have the ability to communicate but at the same time build a native experience and, unlike with email, you never open a new thread so it is in context with all of your previous interactions.”
It’s a function that works well with Messenger’s payment feature too. Users no longer have to leave the app or chat window to complete transactions, which means the experience is more seamless than ever.
Best examples of chatbots
According to Marcus chatbots are best used to drive subscriptions, customer service, and for small transactions. While the chatbots below may not fall strictly into those three camps, they are a few examples of bots that are making a great impression on users – thanks to their content and delivery.
KLM’s Messenger Bot: Receive flight documentation via Messenger, including booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding pass, and flight status updates.
Burberry: Also based in Messenger, Burberry’s bot was launched during London Fashion Week to offer behind-the-scenes content and the chance to shop the latest collection.
Poncho: An extremely witty and fun weather bot, Poncho provides users with the latest weather updates in a fun, quirky tone. Options even include a Hair Forecast – so you’ll never be ambushed by frizz-causing weather.
AndChill: Stop scrolling and start watching with AndChill, a bot that helps you decide what to watch based on your preferences.
HealthTap: It’s connected to a network of more than 100,000 doctors in over 141 specialties, so it’s almost like having 24/7 access to tailored, professional medical advice.
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