Back in April, Facebook announced that retailers would now be able to use its Messenger app to sell directly to consumers in a chat window. Some of the first brands that jumped on this opportunity included 1-800-Flowers.com and Spring. Now, more brands are using artificial intelligence (AI) as a selling and communication platform.
AI (e.g., chatbots) helps accelerate tasks that might take little thought, but still take some time.
“Brands really liked the idea that not only could they potentially allow their customers to communicate with them via a mobile app or website, but they could actually talk to them in the channel they already use to communicate — messenger, SMS, email — whatever people prefer,” explains Lindsay Sanchez, chief marketing officer at Kore, a bot and messaging platform.
Meet your customers where they already are. That’s exactly what brands are told they should do, so aren’t chatbots the perfect way to meet that goal? Well, eventually.
Sanchez says Facebook debuted chatbots before most people really understood what it takes to build a good one. And the hard part about building a chatbot isn’t the software behind it; it’s figuring out how to make the bot work for your brand.
Before chatbots can be a successful part of your business, Sanchez says you need figure out the details.
“A chatbot takes on a personality,” explains Sanchez. This personality is exactly what makes chatbots difficult to build.
When implementing chatbots, Sanchez says retailers should take these steps to make sure the technology works for their brands:
1. Determine the audience. Who are you looking to reach? What customer segments will use it?
“A lot of that is the channels millennials prefer to communicate in, but I oftentimes think about my mom and dad,” says Sanchez. “They're in their late sixties and they get text messaging, they understand how to email. I think bringing that conversational tone back to some of the online engagement is actually what they're looking for in their digital engagement. I think it’s applicable for all different generations, although it does help from a millennial perspective in terms of that’s what they expect.”
2. Determine the channel. Will the chatbot be available through SMS? Facebook Messenger? Email? Sanchez says that chatbots give shoppers a personalized, concierge-like experience regardless of the channel or type of retailer it is.
3. Identify the tasks the chatbot will be able to complete. Chatbots can do many things for retailers, including guiding shoppers through search, sending coupons based on location, tracking orders, asking for reviews and ratings, and assisting with the returns process.
“If retailers do this the right way, I think they can use the data they have on customers to be much more targeted about when and why they send them things that would more likely drive them to buy something,” Sanchez notes.
She also says chatbots can even transfer the customer to a human agent if it needs a little help.
4. Ensure natural language processing and brand voice with your chatbot. This is where it gets tricky, Sanchez says. People ask questions in different ways to get to the same answer, so your bot needs to be able to understand and communicate with the consumer regardless of the language style used. Make sure your chatbot knows synonyms so users don’t get stuck at a dead end.
You also want your chatbot to mirror your brand voice.
“Unlike ever before, you’re seeing this merging of people that sit within the marketing team — and particularly people that write the voice and tone of the company — having to come together with developers in a way that wasn’t the same as what happened when people designed, for example, mobile apps,” explains Sanchez.
5. Test and tune. Test your bot from both a language and security standpoint. Sanchez suggests testing it on a limited number of shoppers, then fine-tune the bot when you get results.
Chatbots can be great if they're in line with your brand and are implemented correctly. Sanchez says retailers can see an increase in loyal customers and brand advocates. However, if chatbots are rushed or done in the wrong way, it can be extremely harmful to your brand.
“If they (brands) aren't doing it contextually and they're just spamming you, it’s just another communication channel with all the same stuff,” says Sanchez. “People will be very turned off. The people that put the thought into how they do it will be much better off in the long run in terms of the value it provides.”
Related story: Facebook Chatbots May Revolutionize the Shopping Experience