The battle of good and evil
It’s a gorgeous Friday afternoon.
You shoot a friend a quick text over lunch.
“MacLaren’s at 7 for drinks?”
The time and location are added to your calendar without lifting a finger.
The moment you step out of work, a driver in a slick black Uber rolls up, ready to take you to your destination. You didn’t even pull out your phone.
No, a drone hasn’t been watching you.
But something else has been.
Enter the bots.
Modern chatbots are, at their simplest, digital assistants that deliver specific results via a conversational interface.
At their most complex, they are artificial-intelligence-powered tools that will make highly-personalized marketing scalable.
They will change the face of marketing as we know it.
Many among us have used bots. Few among us have loved them. That’s why we must make a stand before it’s too late.
You’ve heard it. Bots are the future. But what kind of future they usher in is up to us. The marketers. The sales people. The founders. The startuppers. The front-line of artificial intelligence implementers.
Starting right now, we must solidify the framework around how to use these bots for good instead of evil.
But first, we must make a promise.
As marketers, we’re guilty of a lot. Not all of it is good.
We have this tendency to latch on when we find something that works. We don’t let go until the newest, most promising marketing channel is run completely into the ground.
It’s not because we’re evil. It’s a competitive world out there and we’re all just trying to find success for our businesses and our clients’ businesses.
If one email marketing campaign hit our lead goals, we pile on more emails. Content marketing is trending? Let’s force feed people more content than they could ever possibly consume.
Now, software is built specifically to block, unsubscribe from, and otherwise squash the very campaigns we work so hard to create.
When did it come to this? It’s time to make a change.
Messaging is the new frontier of marketing. Bots give us the opportunity to tap into it by creating scalable, one-on-one interactions directly with consumers.
But hold up. That doesn’t mean we should flock to messaging apps with constant, unwanted streams of vague information.
Our bots should be activated only at a user’s request — we need their full permission. They should provide the most direct path from problem to solution. Their input should be rich in context, highly relevant, and as brief as botly possible.
This time around, let’s promise to do better.
Consumers have changed.
And, quite frankly, they’re sick of what we’re dishing out.
People don’t want to search your entire blog database, your newsletter is completely lost in the garbage heap that is their email inbox, and they will unfollow you in a heartbeat if they find your social feeds overwhelming or irrelevant.
When a person has a problem, they will follow the path of least resistance to the answer. A bot that can meet them in the messaging interface they’re already using to a provide a solution with minimal investment on their part?
That’s where consumers and new marketers meet.
In their 2016 Mobile Messaging Report, ubisend found that over 50 percent of consumers said they would choose messaging apps over email to get in touch with a company.
In their 2017 Chatbot Survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they would rather engage a chatbot than a human because they desired an instantaneous answer.
One in five respondents said they would find no qualms in spending an average of $440 with a chatbot.
Not a bad close for a robot who works around the clock for free.
All good marketers know — meet your audience where they are.
By operating within already-used messaging channels, bots solve people’s growing frustration over the silos that apps create.
Why should a consumer have to download and open three different apps to choose a restaurant, book a reservation, and add the event to their calendar when a bot can do it all from the message app they already have open?
Why should a busy salesperson have to spend hours researching while juggling apps and keeping track of tens of tabs when they could just ask a bot to generate a list in seconds?
It’s simple. They shouldn’t have to. And soon, they won’t.
We can do better this time around.
When you pull it off, the results are incredible. Bots provide incredibly customized communication for every single user you have or ever will have.
However, when it’s bad, it’s almost unforgivable.
Bots operate in a fragile space — people’s personal communication channels. If they don’t deliver an efficient and delightful experience, users won’t hesitate to unsubscribe from your bot and never look back.
The single most important thing you can realize is that the challenge of building a bot doesn’t lie in the technical details. It’s in making it so human-like that people almost can’t tell they’re interacting with a program instead of a live virtual assistant.
“…You’re never just ‘building a bot’ so much as launching a ‘conversational strategy’ — one that’s constantly evolving and being optimized based on how users are actually interacting with it.”
- Clara de Soto, cofounder of Reply.ai
Bot communication is both simple and complex all at once.
At a minimum, a rules-based bot should be able to offer up the solutions your user base is likely to seek.
That means you will have to deeply understand your audience, determine what kind of requests they’re likely to make, and develop a way to provide satisfactory solutions.
Your conversational flow is vital and should include a series of dependent questions. The answers to which will give the bot enough info to both understand what the customer wants and deliver on their request.
When available with AI-enabled bots, context is also hugely important.
In the same way a real-life assistant would be able to unpack all the unspoken context in a request, a bot should be able to respond to the same cues.
Say a user initiates a request to find a hotel room for Friday. Artificial intelligence can help the bot learn where that user will be Friday, what time they’re available to check in, whether they prefer their accommodations have a gym, and so on.
Delivery of this solution should arrive within as few steps as possible. The entire interaction, including the solution, should take place right in the messaging app. Most bot-building platforms include rich media options to help users carry out any necessary actions once their answer is delivered.
To be honest, you and your bot probably won’t get it right the first time — or countless times after that.
At almost two years old, GrowthBot — our sales and marketing bot designed to help you grow your business — is still learning from the marketers, the sales folks, and the other people who use it to get stuff done daily.
The amazing thing about AI-enabled bots is they get more and more useful every time they interact with data.
And that’s exactly what a bot should do: Be useful.
Useful bots have a way of attracting referrals and retaining happy customers.
Your bot should help its user cut down on the micro-decisions and actions they have to do each day.
What it should not do is function as another communication channel where you push out non-customized, blanket content.
Just because bots are the newest marketing stream doesn’t mean they’re suddenly the only marketing stream. For more complex tasks, a form or a live customer service agent might still be the best way to serve the consumer.
Even for less complex tasks where a bot usually works, a customer should have the option to engage another channel or a human if they aren’t able to reach a satisfactory solution.
Pick one thing and do it extremely well. Always consider what duties you want your bot to perform and on which platform(s). What works on Facebook Messenger might not be a great fit for Kik.
Research shows that people are very open to interacting with customer service bots, even if they don’t immediately realize that’s what’s happening.
That’s still no excuse to try to pass your bot for a human. People don’t like feeling tricked.
Bots must be held to a high standard now more than ever.
As this technology rapidly evolves marketing as we know it, the way businesses leverage it will set the tone for what’s to come.
That’s why we as marketers and makers must understand our role in ensuring we don’t scorch another channel before it has the chance to radically change communication as we know it.
Bots have unlimited potential.
Right now, it’s hard to understand the full scope of just what bots can do.
Sure they can save you time and stress by making mundane, repetitive tasks a thing of the past.
But imagine an AI-enabled bot that can help keep track of health conditions, refill prescriptions, and automatically alert medical professionals if it senses something is off.
Today’s bots are often divided into two categories: Informational bots and utility bots.
Informational bots give users a new channel to consumer information, such as breaking news alerts based on your interests.
Utility bots help users complete an action or solve a problem via a user-prompted transaction.
This might include enlisting a bot to deal with the nightmare of updating an airline reservation or pulling up your Google Analytics data so your campaign stats are always at your fingertips.
For the first time, that’s not just a figure of speech.
The world, and the market, is ready for bots. Just look at WeChat.
The app’s 700 million users return to it up to 10 times every day to do everything from conduct business calls to manage their personal finances. What can you do to make your bot that streamlined and useful?
If you’re the good marketer I think you are, you’ll do your best to build a tool that feels welcoming without being imposing and helpful without being overwhelming.
You’ll understand that bot communication should solve one problem really well — and do it only when prompted.
It’s not that people don’t like bots. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When the basic rules and boundaries are respected, people are pleased to work with bots. They fill a need. They provide value and delight at the same time.
There is no doubt bots are the future. Whether that future is a utopian one or a dystopian one is up to how well we follow this framework right now.
We have the power to build honest-to-goodness relationships with our consumers. And consumers are ready to trust us again. It’s a great spot to be in.
This time around, we will do better.