Are chat bots another case of Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) or are they the future of marketing and customer experience?

“Bots are the new apps.” — Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

At the F8 Annual Developer Conference in early April, Facebook announced that it’s inviting outside developers to build “chat bots” into its Messenger platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the conference:

“No one enjoys calling a business, or installing a new app for every business or service they want to interact with, people should be able to message a business in the same way you’d message a friend – getting a quick response, doesn’t take your full attention as a phone call would and you wouldn’t have to install an app.”

Bots, or chat bots, are software programs that automatically respond to basic requests from consumers through Facebook Messenger or SMS. Powered by artificial intelligence (A.I.), bots offer a wide-range of applications from automated responses to weather and traffic inquiries to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages. Facebook believes that Bots for Messenger has the potential to be a primary channel for a business to interact with its customers.

“The experience is akin to chatting with a friend, the one whose taste you always trust while you’re shopping.”
— Alan Tisch, Chief Executive of Spring

Early adopters of Bots for Messenger include HP, Sephora, 1-800-Flowers, CNN, and two apps — Spring and Poncho. HP built a tool that lets consumers print a photo by sending it to the company’s Messenger bot. Once a photo is sent, the bot responds conversationally with printing options and allows users to connect a personal printer or print photos at various locations around the world.

“If you want to send flowers you won’t have to install a new app or enter your credit card details again. You just send a message,” Zuckerberg stated. The irony, he added, is that “now, to order from 1-800-Flowers you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.”

Chat bots take targeted ecommerce promotion to a new level by learning from a user’s actions to personalize content served up over time. Sephora launched a bot that helps users find the right beauty product from its extensive list of SKUs. As the user engages over time, the bot will be able to suggest the best matching product and provide detailed information on the recommended item.

Brands that use chat bots to create personalized experiences that delight customers will reap the rewards of customer engagement and brand attachment. If done right, bots empower companies to deliver personalized customer interactions every single time.

While chat bots have the potential to change the traditional way we interact with software today, there is still a long road ahead. The A.I. technology is still immature and some experts say we’re “asking too much of chat bots.” In order for chat bots to provide value and a pleasant customer experience, the technology must be able to interact with consumers in ways that match a natural flow of conversation. Many bots are poorly equipped to handle even basic queries, as you can see by this exchange on the Poncho weather app.

The CNN chat bots responded to a request for news about the Panama Papers tax haven scandal with a shrug emoji.

Although these examples are a far cry from what Bots for Messenger will look like in the future, the biggest challenge ahead is harnessing the personalization capabilities of A.I. Businesses solving for personalization are going to be the leaders in creating meaningful bots. The most meaningful bot interactions will happen when the technology moves beyond simple weather and traffic updates to helping consumers solve complex decisions.

Bots are certainly bright shiny objects with which many marketers (including myself) are fascinated. With 900 million users on Messenger and more than 15 million businesses with Facebook brand pages, there is unlimited potential. Before chasing the chat bot craze, here are 6 critical things marketers must consider.

Do you think future of bots will change the way businesses and consumers communicate?

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