Chatbots are changing business as we know it because the way we communicate has changed. As a result, chatbots are one of the hottest spaces of innovation in software user interfaces. Why are they so popular now? And more importantly, how can businesses incorporate chatbots in a way that effectively enhances customer-company relationships?

Evolution of chatbots

Although chatbots are decades old, they are now shaping the customer journey more than ever. The appeal of chatbots, both for consumers and companies, comes from a fundamental shift in consumer behavior that is only accelerating.

Consumers now have a strong preference for self-service, and chat interfaces are a big part of that. Chatbots allow users to interact on their terms, which is why text-based communication is so prevalent. Just think how dramatically SMS text messages have taken the place of phone conversations. Why? Because we can do it synchronously when we have time. It’s about control.

Beyond mobile, there is a proliferation of new channels with novel interfaces. New conversational user interfaces are appearing such as voice agents Alexa, Siri, and Cortana, plus a variety of chat platforms. Today, there are more users in messaging apps than there are on social media. So it comes as no surprise that 87% of B2C marketing professionals foresee that chatbots will play a significant role in marketing within three years.

Users prefer interactions where they can ask directly for what they want, rather than maneuver through a setup that was determined for them. Meanwhile, studies show that customer experience will overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator by the year 2020, so companies are eager to create frictionless customer experiences that exceed expectations.

Companies like Marriott International have implemented chatbots in any channel they can engage with customers, including through Facebook Messenger, Slack, Google Assistant, and more. The chatbots assist users through content-fueled interactions that’s connected to a Marriott digital magazine.

Proceed carefully

Time to implement a chatbot ASAP, right? Not so fast.

Execute with customer experience as the priority, not just to try the latest technology. A high majority of surveyed users feel that brands need to provide a more seamless omnichannel experience. Any new method by businesses to communicate with customers should benefit customers and improve brand affinity.

We know that the development and adoption of conversational user interfaces, including chatbots, will only continue to increase. Yet, as much as these tools are proliferating, chatbots still provide the greatest value when they can deliver concise, accurate content that answers people’s real questions. Even though Amazon reported last year that Alexa had received over 250,000 marriage proposals, most chatbot users are seeking assistance that businesses need to deliver.

For companies to engage their customers through preferred channels, the first essential step is to implement a content strategy that can support and scale with these evolving platforms. Content that fuels chatbots is the same content needed to fuel the micro-moment interactions where mobile-dependent consumers expect to have their questions answered immediately. Even if companies already have the content, the way they deliver it needs to put the customer first.

Smart content that scales

Since chatbots depend on natural language processing of user input, the source content that a chatbot pulls from must be optimized for how users are seeking information. That content must be optimized for self-service interactions.

Effective self-service content is what we call smart content: it has a hierarchical structure that follows conversational models; it is semantically rich; it is organized as microcontent that serves both chat interfaces and voice-based applications; it is measurable for actionable insights.

Structure and semantics aren’t the only things that matter. Smart content has to be delivered over a micro-service that is easily queried by various interfaces—chat based, voice, or even smaller internet-powered appliances.

Big name companies like AirBnB, Evernote, and Spotify use chatbots on Twitter for customer service on demand, 24/7. However, the bots pull from content that is optimized to provide customers with quick answers and self-solve options. In this digital age, customers and prospects want the freedom to interact with companies on their own terms.

Customer focus for the win

Chatbots allow companies to provide instant customer interactions at scale. But without actual usable answers, chatbots will lose their luster and become nothing more than a novelty. Businesses prepared for the shift from old document-based content to syndicated smart content will see their information surfaced before their competitors and become the new winners in the chatbot space.

Intelligent chatbots, when implemented as part of a well-executed omnichannel strategy, enable competitive advantage by helping push and pull the right information—at the right time—to customers across the entire customer journey. When you execute properly, users will come back for more.

Learn more about the topic by downloading this whitepaper on the chatbots and the future of customer experience.

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