Rise of the Machines
With messenger apps including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, now being consumed on a daily basis, more than even our social applications, multi-thread one-to-one digital conversations are becoming even more prolific in our online behaviour. This presents a new challenge for brands to become present in this conversational landscape and more importantly feel part of it.
So how do we offer the immediacy and relevance to not only participate but add value to these communications? This has become the domain of automated machines. The rise of automation bots, or chatbots, provides an opportunity for brands to start getting engaged in these conversations. A chatbot is a computer program which conducts a triggered conversation via auditory or textual methods. These bots are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner. The most popular chatbots right now are for ordering food, product/event suggestions, customer service and online health diagnosis, but the scale and potential of these products can be so much more than that.
Understanding and interacting using language has always been an incredibly complex process for computers. Our speech is masked by layers of inflection, subtlety and verbal nuances. Everyone, shares an experience of frustration when Siri misunderstands what seems like a basic request for directions and offers you a popular Indian restaurant. But we forget the time taken in our own lives to learn this. Machine learning and cloud-based services are finally advancing the platforms, with all major digital natives including Google, Amazon and Facebook investing heavily to be the platform of choice for building automated applications on.
For some time now businesses have wanted to use digital automation to increase productivity and provide better experiences for customers. Any 'always on' marketing strategy will suffer if the process of execution is too time consuming, costly or doesn't scale. But chatbots can provide a personalised service layer, which engages with and better services customers. Rather than going to a website and then having to find what you want; bots create a more conversational approach which feels closer to the chats we have with family and friends via messenger and social platforms.
The bigger question is how willing we are to engage with the chatbots? Do we want to interact with life-like avatars or prefer voice and text only? We develop a sense of trust through facial recognition at a very early age and I question if we will ever feel at ease interacting with human-like avatars, no matter how realistic they become. Although fully conversant chatbots may be the future of automated digital conversations, we can leverage them at a much lower level of sophistication and utilise them to simply offer contextualised suggestions and responses to common customer behaviour and requests. These bots can be the frontline service ambassadors of our brands and become an intrinsic component of a customer journey or sales funnel. They can be utilised to determine a customer’s intent and then trigger immediate responses and direction to customers. So, having an 'always on' service makes a lot of sense.
From a communications perspective, we've come a long way from one-size fits all, as the digital world offers us more granular insight to customers and behaviour than any other medium of mass-communication. Many brands are still catching up on embracing the concept of content personalisation. The adoption of chatbots provides an insight into how we will interface with the next generation of smarter and more context aware applications in the future. One of the challenges for brands is to truly understand the context of each conversation or customer journey and then react and complement this experience, in the most human way possible.