You’ve probably heard: chatbots are the future. In fact, if you’re wondering today whether or not your business should create a bot, you’re asking the wrong question. Bot-powered commerce is our modern-day manifest destiny.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t screw it up.
Marketers, we have a terrible habit: We grab hold of glimmering, new communication channels, and scorch them to the ground. It begins with a sense of panic. Our audience is ever-dwindling and competition ever-rising — yet, we still have to meet our monthly goals. So, we create more content, send more messages, cross our fingers, And when a blue ocean channel opens up, we sprint — forgetting the reason people flocked there in the first place.
They say those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Marketer, business leader, entrepreneur — messaging will be the next great marketing channel. But will you copy and paste your strategies of old and repeat the same mistakes?
What is a chatbot, exactly?
No need to overcomplicate it. A bot is nothing more than a computer program that automates certain tasks, typically by chatting with a user through a conversational interface.
The most advanced chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most chatbots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It’s as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
Say you want a new charger for your robot suit from your favorite superhero supply store. You could visit their website, scroll through 20 or 30 product pages, fill out the form with your shipping and payment information, and so on. But if it had a bot, you’d simply tell it and it’ll guide you through the voltage options and place the order. Behind the curtain, the bot is leading you through a series of dependent questions to collect the necessary information to understand your intent, and then deliver the right content to satisfy your needs.
That’s the superpower of chatbots.
They accomplish their task, start to finish, in the place where you already spend your time: messaging apps. Whether it’s Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, or Viber, chatbots integrate with these apps and are available for you to chat with.
If you were making plans with a friend, for instance, you could invite a bot into the thread to place a takeout order or call a Lyft — no need to leave the messaging app to open a browser tab, or even another app.
The challenge of building a bot isn’t a technical one.
It’s conversational. Your job is to understand the interactions your audience is already having with your brand. Then, harness the chat interface in a way that yields maximum impact with minimal fluff.
Yes, witty banter is a plus. But, the ultimate mission of a chatbot is to provide a service people actually want to use. As long as you think of your bot as just another communication channel, your focus will be misguided. The best chatbots harness the micro-decisions consumers experience on a daily basis and see them as an opportunity to help. Whether it’s adjusting a reservation, updating the shipping info for an order, or giving medical advice, chatbots provide a solution when people need it most.
Before you get caught up in the technicalities, let’s set a framework for building a bot your customer will want to use. No bot is meant to do it all. Instead, it should stick to a single function and do this incredibly well.
Chatting with a bot should be like talking to a human that knows everything. If you’re using a bot to change an airline reservation, the bot should know if you have an unused credit on your account and whether you typically pick the aisle or window seat. Artificial intelligence will continue to radically shape this front, but a bot should connect with your current systems so a shared contact record can drive personalization.
Respect the conversational UI. The full interaction should take place natively within the app. The goal is to recognize the user’s intent and provide the right content with minimum user input. Every question asked should bring the user closer to the answer they want. If you need so much information that you’re playing a game of 20 Questions, then switch to a form and deliver the content another way.
Start by asking a leading question that determines the single most important variable. Then use follow-up questions — and to minimize friction, option buttons — to gain the necessary context and hone in on a solution.