Everyone’s talking about them, while some of us are even talking to them – that’s right, the chat bots are taking over. AI is about to shake up the web as we know it, giving brands a new way to interact with consumers on a more personal level.

In fact, the movement has already begun. Facebook sent its own bot platform live last month and it’s merely the latest tech firm to jump on board. So now might be a good time to think about how the bots are going to fit into your business plans.

 

Chat bots: What’s all the hype about?

There are various reason marketers are getting excited about chat bots. While the technology itself is basically the same as personal assistants (like Siri and Google Now) the application of it is very much different.

Chat bots connect brands to users one-on-one and that’s huge in itself. We’re talking about a direct link to individuals through a platform able to deliver personalised messages to users. They’re also interactive. So this isn’t a one-way, static channel for advertising; users can actively engage with these bots.

Take a look at this example from H&M, which runs a bot through the Kik messenger platform:

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When a user starts chatting to the bot, they’re initially faced with some pretty rudimentary questions. They’ll be asked if they’re shopping for men or women, for example, or what their shoe size is. Eventually, the bot knows enough about these people to recommend clothes for them. This information can be stored for later sessions, too, so users end up with a personalised shopping assistant that knows their measurements, tastes and favourite times to shop.

Users can also search via chat bots with simple commands: “I want to buy shoes,” for example. Then the chat bot refines results based on a few simple questions.

Better yet, once these interactions are over, brands can send personalised messages to users, based on their shopping behaviour. Christmas, birthdays, pay days and other key moments all become opportunities to target consumers with new reasons to buy.

Of course, retail isn’t the only industry chat bots are about to drastically change. There big things happening in a range of sectors right now, inlcuding:

 

  • Medicine: Acting as a first contact for patients an relieving the workload of GPs
  • Customer care: Already better than email support and automated calls
  • Search: The days of static, one-way search could be numbered
  • Web design: Some are saying chat bots will kill off websites/apps altogether
  • Consumer electronics: Chat bots and the Internet of Things (IoT) could bring interactive web connections to just about everything
  • Tourism: Booking plane tickets, hotels, taxis through your own personal travel advisor
  • Real estate: imagine finding the right property without that cringe-worthy rep from the estate agents

 

The list could go on but it would be quicker to say just about every industry could be shaken up by these bots.

 

Is it time to buy into the bots?

Despite all the hype, chat bots have a long way to come before they’ll overtake the web. They are solving genuine problems already and it’s easy to see how they could be the first step toward a more interactive web.

The technology is still a bit hit and miss, though. The H&M example we looked at above is powered by Kik – one of the best chat bot experiences around right now. However, you’ll find many platforms still struggle to understand conversation language, while the sophistication of responses can be less than inspiring.

As many brands are finding out, chat bots are exciting but customer retention is a big issue in these early days.

At this stage, bots are best left to solving simple tasks. For example, using them as a support tool – something like an interactive FAQ section. The technology behind bots was basically designed for search engines and that’s the role its best suited to for now. Applying this to product searches like H&M or content searches on your site isn’t too much of a stretch. That’s about as far as it goes for now, though.

 

So, if a chat bot can genuinely improve the experience of engaging with your brand, then it could be time to get involved. You certainly don’t want to develop a bot for the sake of it – nor do you want to provide a poor experience in these early chat bot days and risk putting people off the technology.