There’s no doubt about it , chatbots are changing the e-commerce landscape. They’re shaking up expectations around customer engagement with use cases spanning concierge-like customer care, the post-purchase experience, brand marketing and product discovery. While it may still be early days for this technology, the chatbot landscape is already valued at $4 billion and annual global revenue from chatbot transactions on messaging apps alone is predicted to hit almost $20 billion. Ignore these numbers at your own peril.
While many retailers are boldly embracing the competitive advantage in customer engagement that chatbots represent, others are still hemming and hawing, no doubt remembering their less-than-stellar experience with previous trends like QR codes or the promised mobile app revolution. If you’re in the latter camp, this piece is for you. Unlike the aforementioned flashes in the pan, chatbots represent a lasting shift in the retail landscape and the nature of the brand-customer relationship.
Chatbots Align With Existing Channels and Behavior
Forget trying to teach old dogs new tricks. Chatbots rely on familiarity to reduce friction for your customers. They operate in the channels these customers already use, primarily messaging apps and social media platforms, which smooths the path for adoption dramatically. Instead of trying to bring your target market to you, you’re staking out space where customers already spend their time and using the platforms they’ve already embraced in order to connect with them.
Chatbots Support an Outstanding Customer Experience
With half of customers now saying they want customer service to be chat/text/messaging-based, and 44 percent preferring to deal directly with a chatbot, embracing shoppers’ customer experience expectations means embracing this technology and executing it in a smart way.
Chatbots help you scale to meet rising customer expectations by ensuring a consistent customer journey across all touchpoints (they never have a bad day or go off script) and providing intelligent interactions based on an individual’s shopping history. Furthermore, chatbots also give your customers that “always on” service they now expect via real-time engagement that avoids the frustrating lag time of social media or email customer care exchanges.
Chatbots Represent the Upside of Automation
Research from Business Insider predicts that chatbots can help to cut customer service costs by 29 percent, resulting in a savings of $23 billion for U.S. companies alone. McKinsey echoes this, finding that 40 percent of brands expect contact center call volume to drop significantly over the next decade as customers and brands find new and better (digital) ways to connect.
Chatbots won’t fully replace humans, whether in call centers or triaging customer inquiries via social media, but they will provide a major source of savings as brands are able to better meet customer expectations without significantly increasing spending on personnel and training.
Chatbots Contribute to the Single Customer View
To date, only 20 percent of marketers say their brand has an actionable single customer view. Chatbot interactions are a rich and largely untapped source of info to build out this Holy Grail. In those bot-to-human engagements, you’re learning how shoppers talk about and describe your products, what their most common post-purchase questions might be, how frequently they check for shipping updates, etc. If you’re not capturing this intelligence and engineering your bot to “learn” from it, you’re missing out on a goldmine of interaction-based data that allows you to continuously update your customer personas, which in turn empowers you to deliver a more contextual, personalized experience — exactly what the majority of customers seek in return for all the data they furnish you with.
Chatbots Aren’t Going to Lose Their Sheen
Chatbots put customers’ desires and expectations at the center of their engagement with a brand and offer a scalable tool that brands can leverage to meet those expectations. Chatbots and related personal digital assistant technology will in fact improve over time, and they're here to stay. Can your brand afford to ignore them?
Fang Cheng is CEO of Linc Global, a company that helps retailers and brands engage their customers and drive revenue with personalized post-purchase service, returns, exchanges and re-ordering on channels such as Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, email and SMS.