I teach a social media class each spring semester, and last January, I did a ton of research on the emergence of bots and chatbots. I friended a couple chatbots on my Facebook Messenger feed, and they worked surprisingly well.
They called me by name and fed trending articles, stats, and blogs on, well, bots. Ironic research, I called it. I took great satisfaction in sharing this story with my colleagues: “Hey, I use chatbots to do research on chatbots.”
A recent report indicates that most millennials are having “positive experiences” with chatbots, and that the majority (71 percent) were interested in using them with major brands. Boomers have taken to texting in a big way and soon may also be chatbotting more and more (this is similar to the Boomers migration path with other apps and technologies, such as flocking to Facebook).
Boomers tend to prefer a paper trail, and chatbot on messaging apps can leave this trail. But still, the evidence on bot use by Boomers is that they are lagging– but we all know this can change. Meantime younger generations, already armed with smart devices and multiplatform informational inputs and social communication apps, will expect chatbots and bots to be a common part of their lives.
Some experts are claiming that bots are dead in the water. The main concern is that if you are going to bot, do it right– a rushed, poor functioning chatbot can tarnish your brand immediately. Earlier this year, it was reported that Facebook Messenger chatbots had a significant fail rate (up to 70 percent).
Meanwhile, Facebook had to regroup, striving to improve its chatbots (such as programming with smaller case scenarios to allow the bot to focus in better). Thus, quality and function have to be there.
There certainly are lots of other issues such as scam bots and spam bots, people longing for human interaction, the grimy underbelly of artificial intelligence, and of course, hoping bots don’t become the dreadful aggravation IVR (interactive voice response) can be.
This brings us to an important question: Are bots dead in the water?
In my opinion, not at all. Bots prosper on mobile, and mobile use is growing at a maddening pace. Facebook is a driving force behind chatbot development and use, so this says a lot. With the ever-growing popularity of visual messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, GroupMe, WhatsApp, etc.) and smart, assistant devices for our everyday lives, bots and chatbots seem to fit in as supplemental tools, and could be demanded more.
The Marketing Concept philosophy states that organizations should strive to satisfy customer’s wants and needs. Bots and chatbots can add value to your business now, and soon they will be expected by your customers (Especially with Millennials.), so you need to jump on this train soon.
Small businesses are in a great chatbot position right now. Development of chatbots is getting more and more affordable, with some non-AI (artificial intelligence) bots being very low cost to implement. Development costs will continue to drop, and it should evolve into do-it-yourself, drag and drop software programs, where just like website template programs, you can do it yourself.
To illustrate how chatbots can rev-up your small business, imagine yourself as one of your customers friending the chatbot on your Facebook messenger app. The bot can personalize reservations for your family restaurant, or keep you up-to-date on new inventory additions. Your business can differentiate itself now.
Yes, give customers what they want or need– and I see customers wanting or needing chatbots for three main reasons:
The convenience of a bot is immense. It’s working 24/7, easily accessible, it doesn’t call in sick or have a bad day, and customers don’t have to speak with an actual, real person, if they don’t want to.
2. Customer Service
If a bot can help, so be it. Similar to a FAQ page, if the bot can solve basic problems, customers will be happy to avoid phone calls, waiting time, and pushy sales folks. Proper bot function also allows customers to perform research on your offerings. A bot could sort options based on price or features, it could share digital brochures, videos, or other promotional pieces.
Let’s face it, there is a coolness and a social status aspect to all this. As mentioned, I took great joy in pronouncing that a chatbot researched chatbots for me.
Customers want to feel cool, and you want to be seen as cool by customers. In the future, your company’s chatbots fit right in with your customer’s virtual home assistant device, autonomous car, and augmented reality gaming obsession; all in the pursuit of being cool.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.