How Chatbots Could Change the Future of Marketing

Marketing with Artificial Intelligence
Getty Images / Ezra Bailey

Chatbots also known as conversational agents will be the new craze in the upcoming year when it comes to marketing. Why? It's then next MarTech innovation that will turn artificial intelligence and machine learning into another marketing automation phenomenon. Sounds cool, but what does this mean for the day to day marketing professional and where did the idea of chatbots come from? 

You can thank Facebook for their introduction of chatbots at the F8 developer conference this past April.

Facebook announced that soon Facebook chatbots would be working with top name brands like CNN and 1-800-Flowers. Chatbots became the craze overnight, they even have their own conference Talkabot that was held in Austin in September. 

What Is a Chatbot?

A chatbot is a service that utilizes defined rules, artificial intelligence, and/or machine learning and a consumer will use a chat interface to interact with the chatbot. You will typically find a chatbot within a messaging application, for example, a company may use a chatbot to man their Facebook messenger. The chatbot can be used to help a consumer by answering questions.  

Chatbots aren't new, most of us interact with them in one way or another, i.e. Apple's Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa and Echo and Microsoft's Cortana. We use these applications to gain access to information or to instruct specific applications to fulfill our needs.

Chatbots won't replace customer service tomorrow, but they could certainly become a threat in the future. Another core feature of a chatbot is to help in enhancing the customer experience and driving overall customer loyalty. Some would say that the usage of a chatbot will help to close the gap between man and machine, others have anxiety regarding the technology and wonder if it is one more thing that will take away the "personal touch" from our relationships with our customers.

Only time will tell, but the concern is legit and something to be considered. The sensitive handoff from machine to individual will be crucial to the success of a company's usage of chatbots.  

How would individuals use chatbots? Imagine the following:  

  • "Order me a Venti Holiday Spice Flat White for pickup in 30 minutes." 
  • "Schedule my next hair appointment for next Saturday at 1:00 p.m." 
  • "Pay my mortgage payment and apply an additional $500 to the principle." 
  • "Locate my shipment and tell me when I should expect delivery." 

As you can see it really isn't out of line with how we do business today, the only difference is we'd be using a chatbot through a messaging application to accomplish those tasks. You get the point.  

At Facebook's F8 conference, Mark Zuckerburg was quoted saying the following: 

“I don’t know anyone who likes calling a business. And no one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service that they interact with. We think you should be able to message a business, in the same way, you would message a friend.” — Mark Zuckerberg at F8 in 2016

We truly are entering the era The Jetsons cartoon, it once was a fantasy, but daily we see the family of the future becoming our day to day lives.


How Chatbots Will Impact Marketing 

So, how will chatbots impact you and your day to day job as a market and what do you need to know about them to be prepared? 

  • Chatbots for Ecommerce   
    The use of chatbots is to replicate the behavior of a human being. Messaging app chatbots can provide enhanced e-commerce support. They have the ability to drive e-commerce by inspiring purchases and assisting to increase the products within an individual's shopping cart. A chatbot is driven by predefined rules which help them respond intelligently to user queries. A user poses their question to the chatbot, the chatbot will respond with relevant questions and help to identify the product that your customer is looking for. This interaction happens within minutes and the consumer feels supported and guided in their customer journey.  
    A chatbot can do several things in an e-commerce situation, for example, you can use a chatbot to automate the order process, provide customer support, upsell, cross-sell and build a relationship with the customer. That's just the beginning.  

  • Chatbots for Customer Service 
    Chatbots also have the ability to deliver customer service, 24/7 without the need for additional staff. It's a low-cost solution that has the attention of many companies. Chatbots can offer customer service through social media, which is a channel that many consumers are comfortable with. Chatbots enable you to automate and manage the customer service activities easily. Just like using chatbots with e-commerce there are many activities that chatbots can assist with handling objections, offering discount codes, answer questions regarding out of stock items, solicit customer feedback and provide shipping information and notifications, as well as assist with returns.  

  • Chatbots Monitor Consumer Behavior 
    Chatbots have the ability to keep track of the behavior of your consumers throughout your website. They can track what customer purchases as well as the conversation that they engage in with your chatbot. You can use this information to recommend products and/or services and display complementary services or products that they would be interested in. While this isn't new and this is something that we can do via cookies, integrating a conversation in the process and personalizing the experience, once again enhancing the customer journey creating an exceptional experience.  

  • Chatbots Assist in Customer Acquisition and Increase Retention 
    The benefit of chatbots is their interface, it's a permission interface. As consumers we are used to messaging apps, we use them to stay in touch with friends and family. As businesses, we can use them to build a connection with our customers without it feeling obtrusive. Chatbots have the ability to scan social profiles of customers quickly, gaining insight and creating a rapport with the customer quickly. This rapport is used to engage the customer and immediately begin building the relationship and increasing the opportunity to create loyalty with that customer.  

  • Chatbots Are There When They Are Needed 
    Since we are dealing with applications, these applications can run 24/7. You don't have to be concerned with being short staffed and unable to assist customers when they need it. They are available when they are needed with no time constraints.    

Chatbots and Security 

This all sounds great, but what about security? Are there things business should be concerned with when it comes to overall security? Due to the nature of work that chatbots do it's important that they are encrypted. If you run your chatbot on premise and only in-house encryption can be somewhat simple because it can be set on a private encrypted channel. However, if you wish to deploy a chatbot integrated into a messaging application on social channels like Facebook, you are a the mercy of that platform's security capabilities. When it comes to security you will need to research the following security risks: 

  • Work with your IT department and familiarize yourself with the encryption capabilities of the chatbot and your deployment plan.   
  • Establish rules and plan for how you will handle and store Chatbot data. Which data will you gather and how will you make your customers aware of the data that is being collected? Will it be within your terms and conditions? You will need secure storage to keep the data and you will need to identify how long you will keep the data.  
  • As chatbots become more common hackers will begin to engineer how to hack them and utilize them for phishing schemes, how will you be prepared and what education will you provide to prohibit the transfer of sensitive data. This will be key until the technology is developed to identify and intercept malicious activity utilizing chatbot technology.  

While chatbots have the ability to change the way we do business it's important that we take security surrounding them seriously and we employ them properly to protect our customers and business.  

How Do You Get Started With Chatbots? 

All of this talk probably has you excited to get started with chatbots, even if it's just to experiment with them, so where do you go to get started? There is a lot of detail and a lot to take in, so I'd suggest experimenting with HubSpot's Growthbot. It's a chatbot specific for the marketing and sales professional and a great place to begin your exploration and to deepen your knowledge of the how chatbots can be used in sales and marketing.