The future of CRM: To Chatbot or not to Chatbot?

Social messaging tools are no longer a mysterious entity saved for the early tech adopters and their double mochaccinos – as cliché as it may sound, every gran and her dog now has access to Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook messenger, or something along those lines.

Digital communication has never been more accessible – and our patience with it has somewhat diminished. After all, would you be happy to wait 5 days for a letter when you could receive an online response almost immediately?

This demand for rapid service has caused many brands to want to adopt a Chatbot functionality into their customer journeys, to ensure consumer-brand communications are dealt with as efficiently and quickly as consumers now expect them to be.

But is this the right route to go down? And if so, what are the things we need to look out for? Here, we discuss the pros and cons (and the dos and don’ts) of Chatbots, to help you decide if they should be part of your CRM plans for 2019.

What is a Chatbot?

Before we delve any further into whether Chatbots should be an important component of a brand’s CRM system, it’s probably wise to first explain a little bit about what a Chatbot actually is.

According to the folks over at Oxford Dictionaries, a Chatbot is: “A computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.”

Essentially, a Chatbot is a virtual assistant that can either respond through pre-determined commands or through artificial intelligence in an automated manner, free from human input.

And this is no longer just a Stanley Kubrick AI fantasy, with a report by Gartner forecasting that by 2020 over 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human.

What’s the benefit?

Chatbots can respond to queries and issues from any consumer in the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ultimately easing pain-points and improving brand experience.

From a business perspective, Chatbots help to standardise certain mundane tasks and ease the sheer amount of consumer messages that employees would otherwise have to deal with. This lessens the probability of large business overheads, stressed employees, and unhappy customers.

From a CRM viewpoint, the idea of enhancing the seamless consumer experience is of vital importance. Consumer expectations have increased, and so must the capabilities of the technology used to support the customer journey.

With progression of natural language programming (NLP), Chatbots have evolved so that they no longer just give canned responses, and can instead connect rather naturally with consumers. This means they can help to re-imagine what Social CRM means for brands.

As consumers increasingly take to public channels to vent frustration (or heap on praise!) brands need to constantly be there to ensure they’re not missing out on any of the conversation.

If implemented correctly, Chatbots can directly field questions and provide responses on social media channels – and they’re already in substantial use. In 2017 there were over 100,000 Facebook bots active on the messenger platform, with over two billion messages being passed between consumers and brands every month using Chatbots.

Chatbots in action

Adidas noticed that Chatbots were the “perfect vehicle” to communicate with innovation-hungry consumers.

So, to help garner interest in its recently launched female-focused community space Studio LDN, Adidas implemented a Chatbot whereby consumers could find information on Studio sessions and register a place on them. In fact, the Chatbot was the only place where consumers could get this information.

So why would a global brand place such a high amount of reliance on an automated program?

Sarah Gower (Managing Editor at Adidas London Newsroom) explains: “Our target consumers are early adopters of social innovation, so a chatbot is the perfect vehicle for us to communicate with them. The Adidas women’s chatbot is an extension of the physical space, which also helps to ensure that all information within it is timely and relevant.”

Judging by the results, I’ve begun to question what we did before Chatbots existed. In the first two weeks of its launch, 2,000 people had signed up to participate in a session, with repeat use of the Chatbot at a staggering 80%.

And these successes aren’t just a fluke.

Takeaway company Just Eat has witnessed similar results with its Chatbot function. Users can use the Chatbot to search for restaurants and food inspiration using emojis and keywords. The Chatbot will respond in an equally colloquial manner – often spouting out Samuel L. Jackson Gifs, much to the delight of its thousands of hungry recipients, all in an effort to uphold the brand’s fun and ‘quirky’ image.

But the real clever part about Just Eat’s Chatbot is that it understands where to draw the line. For example, if at any point a user were to say “my food is late,” the Chatbot will immediately transfer the user through to a human, realising that the last thing a ‘hangry’ customer wants is a Gif.

Now, you may think this was surely just another marketing fad in order to gather a few inches of newspaper column. But you, dear reader, would be unequivocally wrong.

Since the Chatbot’s launch, thousands of customers have used it, with an average use time of 1.53 minutes. Furthermore, the Chatbot has encouraged repeat users (13.5% increase) and has astronomically improved conversion rates when compared to an average Social ad (266% increase).

But, chat with caution…

Implementing a Chatbot isn’t a solution that should be shoe-horned into your brand’s existing CRM processes. At the end of the day, a badly implemented Chatbot function is actually going to be more frustrating for the consumer than not even having one in the first place.#

Let’s take Sue for example, who has a question regarding a pair of trainers she’s browsing on a retail website.

Sue wants to know whether the retailer will ship to her home (let’s say it’s in Hawaii), and she can’t find the answer. She notices that the website has a live Chatbot function which prompts her to “Ask me any questions or share any issues you might have!”

Sue promptly takes up the offer.

After a series of back and forth messages, Sue is becoming frustrated at the Chatbot’s inability to answer a simple question and decides that the ‘helpful’ conversation is going nowhere. She terminates the chat and is instead forced to locate the retailer’s helpline number, wait in a hold queue, and have her question answered by a human within 10 seconds. The answer being “No, I’m afraid we don’t.” Great.

This scenario highlights that, if Chatbots aren’t implemented correctly and fail to serve the purpose they were intended to (e.g. quickly answering delivery queries), then they are merely adding to a disjointed customer journey.

Chatbots are a function that should enhance a consumer’s experience and help automate a brand’s CRM processes. But if you don’t get it right, they can actually lead to further frustration for the consumer and ultimately put more strain on the brand’s CRM system by requiring input from a human call-handler.

This is essentially what Dimension Data has referred to as the “Uncomfortable Truth”, whereby companies now have this type of technology available to them but many are failing to implement effective digital strategies with it, causing a gap between customers’ expectations and perceptions.

So: To Chatbot or not to Chatbot?

I suppose at the end of the day, the important thing to remember is don’t be that person who has to have it just because everyone else has got it (apologies for Christmas ’02, mum…). Take the time to really think about how a Chatbot could enhance your CRM offerings – start by asking yourself these questions:

  • At what moments in our customers’ journeys could we ease their need to contact us?
  • Are there tasks we require from our customers that could be automated?
  • From a consumer perspective, am I happy to speak to a Chatbot at this point if it means a speedier response?
  • As a company, are we likely to ease a lot of internal processes by implementing a Chatbot?

And whatever you do, make sure you set up some solid rules for your shiny new Chatbot, or else you could end up with egg on your face, just like Microsoft found out….


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