We've come a long way since the days of AIM and SmarterChild. The world of chatbots is emerging and fast-moving, with players as diverse as Sephora and StubHub. With the ability to exist outside apps, often leveraging texting and voice technology, chatbots have the environment to thrive and bring a sense of efficiency to consumer interactions. The promise of the “affordable butler” has arrived.
Not only do bots streamline transactions, they allow brands to capture a breadth of consumer data while engaging with customers one-on-one. Unlike platforms like Snapchat and Kik, largely geared to a certain demographic, chatbots have vast — and valuable — applications to consumers of all ages.
Though both groups seek meaningful benefits, brands must devise distinct strategies aligned to each segment’s behaviors and preferred use cases. As such technology continues to advance, marketers should consider how chatbots’ unique functionalities enhance communication with new and returning customers and how to optimize existing chatbot experiences.
One of the most prominent uses of chatbots is the ability to vet consumers’ unique preferences and personalize recommendations. With seemingly endless retail options, searching for specific products often proves overwhelming to consumers, especially those who don’t know where to start. To remedy this friction, The North Face recently launched the first AI-powered shopping app, allowing users to speak to a Watson-powered assistant and engage in a Q&A conversation to find the perfect product.
Positioned to streamline activity and help audiences discover relevant products, such a utility greatly benefits older shoppers, who may be more inclined to converse verbally than type long responses. Through a series of questions, the app uses consumer information, allowing the app to narrow offerings and suggest products that correspond to their needs, providing a hyper-personalized experience. While shoppers appreciate the sense of attention, brands must ensure they’re putting only the best experiences forward and avoid suggestions that seem too generic.
The North Face’s experience goes above and beyond, not only highlighting relevant product offerings but increasing overall engagement. The apparel company reported that consumers interacted with the bot for an average of two minutes and generated a 60% click-through rate for recommended products, with 75% saying they’d use the app again.
While some consumers turn to chatbots to hasten the purchasing cycle, others regard chatbots as a form of entertainment. Powered by Facebook Messenger, Trolli’s chatbot uses a series of interactive quizzes and games to keep candy enthusiasts playing with branded content. Fans of the candy brand can take a 10-question personality test, care for virtual pets, and sift through a series of memes and GIFs through the app’s interface. Playful and boldly quirky, the Trolli chatbot speaks directly to youthful audiences with its assortment of colorful features and instills a sense of loyalty by rewarding participation with free candy.
By leveraging Facebook Messenger, Trolli can engage with its audience on a platform they frequently moonlight, granting them a consistent, seamless way to keep the conversation going. Moreover, the chatbot’s unorthodox functionalities help Trolli break through the clutter and remain top of mind, further bridging the gap between the brand and its consumers.
Ease of Access
Though some chatbots function as their own apps and others leverage pre-existing experiences, there is no perfect formula for where a chatbot should exist. Brands looking to establish a home base for chatbots should draw on an audience’s specific behaviors.
Whether a Boomer or Millennial, consumers are perpetually on the go and expect to find their favorite brands across channels, allowing them to reach out at their convenience. Brands must work to optimize experiences for each platform, ensuring consumers have consistent, positive interactions across devices. For example, retailers should use shorter sentences during text-based experiences and offer greater detail over desktop.
To satisfy a large audience stretching across user demographics, the White House launched its Messenger chatbot, used to send correspondence to the President, in 2016. The White House invites citizens to write to the President through fax, email, and snail mail. By adding chatbots to the mix, Americans are granted increased accessibility to the Commander in Chief. As such, chatbots allow the White House to modernize and acknowledge the preferences of digital natives.
Activating & Enhancing Chatbots
Whether a fashion retailer or a fast casual restaurant, brands considering chatbots must think thoroughly about their intended audience, as well as specific use cases. Depending on its audience, bots may behave differently, from the length of a response and even the language and sentence structure used.
Whether enabling loyalty, personalization or beyond, actionable data can be derived from chatbot transactions. This data, especially the dialogue that results in a transaction, is especially valuable for brands. With open-ended queries and ample room for A/B testing, brands can see the commands that resulted in a closing transaction within the same demographic. Brands can examine which consumers are more apt to engage, at what times of day, and on which platforms. Such information can give them a sense of which communication channels to further invest in.
Though chatbots are already making a positive impact with audiences, the best is yet to come. As brands continue to innovate and experiment, consumer data will be a valuable tool to further enhance engagements and create more personalized, enriching experiences. Whether a Boomer or Millennial, fashionista or foodie, chatbots allow consumers’ favorite brands to live just a click away, forging interactions that are truly exemplary.
Russell Zack is the SVP, Products and Solutions, at digital marketing solutions company, HelloWorld. He has more than 20 years' experience of software product development, management, sales and innovation experience. In his role at HelloWorld, he is responsible for overseeing product development and product marketing, ensuring that the company continues to innovate and develop at a pace ahead of market needs. Prior to his role at HelloWorld, Zack served as General Manager, EMEA, for video platform company Kaltura, overseeing its business in Europe, Middle East and Africa from Kaltura’s London office.