Here come the Bots
A few years ago, the Gartner Group forecasted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human (Gartner 2011). So let’s have a look at bots. Part 1 explores What are Bots? What are Chatbots, Slackbots, Good Looking AI bots?; Types of Bots (including Sales Bots, Lead Generation Bots and, wait for it, AI Marketing Assistant Bots as well as CRM Bots). Part 2 explores the Importance of Bots; Intelligent Bots; How to develop successful Bots.
What are Bots?
Bots are fast becoming a very hot topic in marketing since social media and mobile apps gave us messaging apps. Some bots (e.g. basic messaging apps like watsapp, viber, facebook messaging, Yahoo Messenger, playstation messages, skype) are now bigger than social media (see the chart below). Bots are defined as software that performs an automated task over the Internet e.g. a shopping bot that searches for the best prices and recommendations. Or chatbots that engage in text conversation with customers. Since texting has become so popular, it’s not surprising to see that ‘chatbots are the next logical step in tech innovation’ (Cerny 2016). Soon most of them will become voice operated (like Apple iPhone’s Siri). Who knows, they may, one day even become thought operated. They will become more aesthetically pleasing.
Messaging apps have, for the first time ever, surpassed even social networks in popularity. McKetterick (2016)
What are Chatbots?
Chatbots are ‘special programmes that are integrated into messengers to interact with customers’ (Suvorov 2016). They are like apps that talk back (via text). The level of friendliness and sophistication depends on the quality of the natural language processing technologies and the level of human effort to develop appropriate (friendly) responses. Although we are still at a relatively early stage of Conversation Commerce, it is worth looking at Ivan Suvorov ‘Shopping in messengers article’ to see how four different retailers use chatbots to deliver varying degrees of satisfaction. Meanwhile good chatbots ask salient questions at the right time. Currently, complexity and common sense, limit chatbots for now (particularly in more complex businesses). However, it looks like there’s no slowing down the bot revolution & some of them will create competitive advantage.
What are Slackbots?
Bots can be added to Slack (which is a is a relatively new type of messaging for teams). Slack integrates with many other tools such as Mailchimp, Google Chrome, Calendars, DropBox, twitter). Team conversations are organised into channels (e.g. departments, office locations, projects or anything). Public channels are open to anyone in your team. Private channels are for specific invitees only. You can share files, images, documents, spreadsheets simply by dragging them & dropping them into the right channel. Private direct messages. Plus direct messages to groups. It sends alerts. Everything is searchable and in synch across all devices. No more email!
What are Sophisticated, Good Looking AI Bots?
Bots will become more aesthetically pleasing & more intelligent.
Bots are always on and will become nicer looking and more intelligent as:
- AI (Artificial Intelligence)
- Natural Language Processing
- Facial & Vocal Recognition
all continue to improve.
Some customers will be willing to pay for good advice or to have good conversations with particular bots that can help them solve various issues such as dating, marriage, divorce etc. Perhaps there is a gap for an ‘Oprah Bot’ (see below). Very personal stuff can be managed by robots, if initially, they don’t look like robots. Perhaps we might be happy to be advised by celebrities’ bots. After all, celebs are brands and research shows that many people (in the UK) trust brands more than they trust the church and the police.
The Uncanny Valley – Real Human Looking Robots Scare Children (today)
In the 1970s, Japanese robotics engineer, Masahiro Mori, observed that the more human his robots appeared, the more people reacted positively towards them. But when robots look too similar to humans (but still seen as a robot) people saw them as ‘visually revolting’.
Human Looking Bots can upset children
Mori called this ‘The Uncanny Valley’ – the chasm between ‘fully human’ and ‘nearly human’. More recently audiences didn’t like the very realistic looking Final Fantasy movie animation (some children cried). Was this the ‘Uncanny Valley’? Dreamworks Studios were aware of this when producing Shrek, particularly when they tested their product (test screenings). They discovered that children perceived the movie to be spooky because the animations were almost real. Dreamworks then changed the characters to be less real and more cartoon-like. [Source: PR Smith 2016]
The Importance of Bots
Bots’ massive user base (see previous chart) is relatively young. And they like the new interface which is no longer cumbersome texting but rather, it can be language-based (or voice operated), hands-free and, essentially easier and friendlier to use. Major players like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon are making announcements about bots (McKitterick 2016). Skype have their own too.
Skype’s New bots
Remember, however, to succeed, the whole Bot experience must be all about helping customers (or entertaining them or informing them etc.). This can also mean saving customers time &/or having a ‘meaningful impact’ on their lives or their businesses.
Mobile messaging apps are massive. As Will McKetterick (2016) says: ‘The largest services have hundreds of millions of monthly active users (MAU). Falling data prices, cheaper devices, and improved features are helping propel their growth. Messaging apps are about more than messaging. Popular Asian messaging apps like WeChat, KakaoTalk, and LINE have taken the lead in finding innovative ways to maintain user engagement. Media companies, and marketers are still investing more time and resources into social networks like Facebook and Twitter than they are into messaging services. That may change as messaging companies develop their services and reach, and ultimately, provide more avenues for connecting brands, publishers, and advertisers with customers. Is this already happening as mentioned, messaging apps have, for the first time ever, surpassed even social networks in popularity (McKetterick 2016)?
Types of Bots
Customer Service Bots
Sales Bots, Lead Generation Bots & Retail Bots
Have been around a long time. I even predicted ‘shopping bot wars’ more than ten years ago when hovering hologram shopping bots cause queues as they argue with cashiers and bus drivers about prices (Smith 2005). Well the wars haven’t happened and the bots have been slow to appear, but they are coming. They are growing. Marketers need to familiarise themselves with them because message apps (early bots) are already bigger than social media. And they are getting cleverer as AI and access to multiple databanks kick in.
Shopping Bot by Kip
Kip helps to co-ordinate team purchases by pinging a message to staff re ‘who needs office stationary & equipment?’ Then items are added to a standing order & eventually bought with just one click. Kip can also be used for personal shopping and even encourage customers to use emoji’s and photos to ‘discover new things’. Kip describes itself as ‘your personal shopper’. Kip uses emojis and photos to ‘discover new things’. People can ask the bot for different things like “Chocolate” or “Coffee” and it will return a list of products. Then Kip earn a percentage on each transaction.
Kip Bots use emojis
While the bot will tell you that swapping Cumin for Coriander is okay in a certain recipe – it can also send you an article that talks about “5 Sriracha Infused Recipes That Will Leave Your Guests In Awe” (sponsored by Sriracha of course).
If you want anonymous marriage counselling, Ross Simmons et al (2016) suggest that ‘”Marriage counsellors can charge anywhere from $75 to $200 or more per hour depending on where you live, the experience of the therapist, and the type of setting can all play a factor in how much counselling costs. Bots could help marriages, at scale, at a much lower price point and be more accurate in their advice by leveraging the data they receive from their frequent interactions” (Simmonds 2016).
These bots can offer tips and tricks on how to stay healthy and use affiliate links to send people to fitness products that have affiliate links associated with them. They can even run an interactive training session with you, inviting you to do the next exercise, if you have completed the 50 press-ups. Layer in additional data from fitness apps and you will probably see a nation becoming fitter as they compete with their own previous performance and simultaneously form relationships with their fitness bots.
If you need life advice – why not get ‘personal advice’ from a high profile personality brand with whom many millions already have a positive relationship. This branded app in the form of a bot could be scaled up and yet still give personalised answers from your favourite celebrity, in the strictest of confidence. Data privacy is, of course critical with all of these bots.
Could you imagine it? Britain’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs advising the nation after pulling it out of Europe?
Wouldn’t we all like one of these? Interestingly, I’m told many American Business Masters Programmes have an optional half module called ‘golf’ – which includes golf etiquette, golf tips and networking skills.
for information on your car, how to maintain it, service it, and maybe, a premium priced bot for how to fix it.
The New York Times Election Bot gives you live results and updates/alerts. You can also submit questions to the newsroom directly. There are more and more bots piling into this marketplace such as Purple which is one of many election bots.
Wondering what millennials are thinking about the next election? Ross Simmonds et al (2016) says: ‘There are bots that you can pay to do the research for you. While I haven’t come across any bots that are doing this today, it would make a lot of sense for Q&A bots to offer this type of service.
Bots like disordatbot are already asking people simple ‘this or that’ questions. Event planners can decide which music act to book for a particular event. Rather than using an expensive research firm or inaccurate focus group, ‘you can run a research campaign with disordatbot and ask users in your city whether they prefer Radiohead or Nickelback.’ (Simmonds 2016)
What separates disordat from a simple ‘either-or’ bot is that disordat bot questions also have an option to get for more information. If the user taps “Huh?” In response to these questions, the bot sends a link that gives more information.
DisorDat bot helps customers make decisions Image Credit: disordatbot
Sales Bots (retail sales bots)
These will encourage customers to ask them (the bots) questions such as ‘do you have any Adidas football boots? The bot will immediately answer ‘Yes’ here are our most popular 3 adidas football boots. Was there a particular style you need? And what size would you like?’ The bot then presents the information (e.g. a photo, product sheet, video, a 3D model and perhaps soon, a virtual hovering hologram/bot). The prospect then buys the product similar to buying on a web site, but perhaps, eventually, with voice control options. Meanwhile, it is worth reading Ivan Suvorov’s (2016) ‘Shopping in messengers article’ to see how four different retailers use chatbots to deliver varying degrees of customer satisfaction.
H&M Bots help customers Image Credit: H&M
Lead Generation Bots
Independent knowledge bots (not associated with a particular brand) could be set up, promoted and used to help people get information about any particular area of interest. In return for giving tailored, relevant and useful content/information, the bot asks “Is it ok if I pass this along to someone who can help you with some special offers? The Bot owner gets paid a commission. In fact bot owner can become an affiliate to several suppliers earning commission each time the bot affiliate passes prospect information to a particular company.
Ross Simmonds et al (2016) suggest that ‘Slack Bots that don’t have a Q&A focus could also leverage this model. If you’ve built a bot that offers valuable content on a regular basis to a niche audience, organizations who want to connect or sell to that audience might have an interest in conducting research campaigns via chat.’
Sales Assistant Bots
Given that sales people spend too much time filling in reports, or researching customers,and arguably, too little time talking with customers, chatbots could do the form filling and also equip sales people with a cheat sheet with some nice ice-breakers tailored to the buyer they are going to meet along with any key information or dialogue the company has had with them.
So there you have an introduction to bots covering: What are Bots? What are Chatbots, Slackbots, Good Looking AI bots?; and Types of Bots.
Part 2 explores artificially intelligent marketing bot; How do you create smart AI driven bots? The key to successful bots; taking humans out of the loop by 2020?
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Bachman, R. (2016) The limits of A.I. and chatbots: How not to fail like Microsoft VB Live, 22 June
Campbell, R. (2016) Introducing DisOrDatBot , Readme.mic, 18 April
Cerny, B (2016) Why chatbots can’t do much more than order you an Uber…yet 22 June, venture Beat
Gartner Predicts (2011), Customer 360 Summit, Los Angeles, March 30 – April 1
McKitterick, W (2016) Messaging apps are now bigger than social networks, Business Insider,15 June
Meeker, M. (2016) 2016 Internet Trends Report, KPCB, 1 June
Rogers, S (2016) Shopify acquires Kit, the artificially intelligent marketing bot, Venture Beat 13 April
Simmonds, R et al (2016) How will bots make money? Here are 7 business models, Venture Beat, 9 June
Smith, PR & Chaffey, D. (2005) Emarketing Excellence, 2nd ed. Butterworth Heinnemann (bot wars)
Smith, PR (2016) SOSTAC® Guide To Your Perfect Digital Marketing Plan V2, www.PRSmith.org/books
Suvorov, I (2016) Shopping in messengers, Chatbots Magazine, May.