Chatbots are now an almost essential part of a successful business

Sophia, by Hanson Robotics. Picture: Supplied

Over the last few years, we’ve moved past The Information Age. Developments in technology and consumer behaviour have evolved and we’re now entering a new age: The Age of Convenience.

It’s an age where technology has fundamentally shifted consumer expectations, and where businesses that don’t recognise this and adapt their approach to marketing, sales, and customer service will ultimately suffer.

For businesses that are already adapting, chatbots have been a big focus, and for good reason. Chatbots are an obvious choice for meeting consumer demand for instant answers, and according to a Gartner study from February 2018, 25% of customer service operations will incorporate virtual customer assistants or chatbots by 2020.

At HubSpot, we’ve seen remarkable results with Facebook Messenger chatbots beyond customer service. By deploying Facebook Messenger as a marketing channel, we’re allowing people to sign up for our events and download our content by interacting with chatbots, without ever leaving the app.

Prioritising convenience in your marketing means those who interact with your business at this stage are much more likely to become paying customers. It just makes sense.

Yet despite the enthusiasm for chatbots across lots of different industries, most companies are a long way from getting the experience right. In fact, for most Australians, chatbot experiences are underwhelming at best.

According to the same Gartner survey, 43% of Australian consumers engaged with a service chatbot in the past 12 months. Yet only 35% of those who interacted with chatbots reported their interaction producing a solution.

  • 27% of respondents were directed to call a customer service representative
  • 22% say the chatbot was not equipped with sufficient information or systems to resolve a query, and
  • 14% were directed to a web form

This is a big problem. In The Age of Convenience, your current and prospective customers never sleep. They expect immediate answers, at all times of the day, via the channel of their choosing.

The whole point of interacting with a chatbot is to get an instant answer. As a customer, it’s a shortcut to solving a problem that would usually be met with a day or two of silence via email, or 30 minutes of unbearable hold music whilst you wait in a phone queue.

To keep your customers (and turn them into promoters of your brand) you need to help them via the channel of their choice, in a time frame they deem acceptable, or they will simply leave and find another company that does.

If they contacted you via Facebook Messenger, don’t send them to a web form or reply back with a phone number for your support line. Solve their problem inside Messenger, right there and then.

That might mean building an automated chatbot — which isn’t as technical or expensive as it sounds — or intersecting with human help and chatting with a support rep inside Messenger.

Dutch airline KLM provides an exemplary chatbot experience. Book a flight, ask questions, and receive travel updates (and even packing advice) via their service bots, which exist in Facebook Messenger and Google Assistant.

Upon booking a flight, you’re asked which channel you prefer to receive travel updates via. Options include Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter and WeChat, in addition to the usual email, and it’s this level of self-selection that sets them apart.

It’s a simple and elegant customer-first experience that’s unfortunately very uncommon in business-to-human communication, where pushing information via email is the default.

This reliance on email as a communication channel often means that when designing a chatbot experience, businesses get it very wrong.

The basic principles of chat are very different to that of email. So why, when we interact with chatbots, does it so often feel like we’ve just read an email? Lines and lines of text, with little opportunity for interaction, defeats the point of chat channels altogether.

The rise of chatbots is well under way, but if businesses don’t learn how to execute a chat experience that meets the expectations of the modern consumer, embracing this emerging technology is likely to do more harm than good.

For that reason, it’s important that those building the experience are skilled up on how to do so effectively.

The Age of Convenience presents a huge opportunity for businesses to reinvent how they go to market, and how they sell to and service their customers, to set them up for long term growth and success.

Ultimately, the companies that fail to adapt won’t last long against those that are already running head-on towards the future.

Jameas Gilbert is Director of APAC at HubSpot

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