One of the hottest digital marketing trends over the past 18 months has been the rise of chatbots. These are essentially very clever snippets of code that enable marketers to automate certain everyday processes that used to require humans.
The big question, of course, is whether chatbots can ever deliver on their promise of true one-to-one personal interaction.
Today’s customer service experience
The easiest place to see how personal chatbots can put the “social” back in social media is by considering the typical customer service experience. This experience probably includes calling up a company, waiting on hold for a few minutes, being transferred around to the right customer service rep, waiting on hold again, listening to stupid music you don’t enjoy, and then having to repeat the same information over and over again every time you are transferred to someone new. In short, the current customer service experience sucks.
Moreover, companies are working so hard to cut costs that they make it almost impossible to even find the right phone number to call in the first place. They don’t want you talking to a human because they have to pay that human to take your call. So they refer you to a worthless FAQ page. Or they try to get you to submit your question via some kind of online ticket that they can then farm out to some low-cost overseas customer service center.
Enter the chatbot
That’s where chatbots come into the picture. They provide a fun, social experience that can help to create the semblance of real 1-on-1 personal interaction. At the very least, you won’t walk away hating the company, as you would with most non-chatbot customer service experiences.
What’s so fascinating about chatbots is how most people are willing to “suspend belief” when they are dealing with them. Deep down, you know that it’s just a bunch of code. But they can still be deceptively clever, especially when they are programmed to have a real persona.
The Katy Perry chatbot
Say, for example, you happen to be a Katy Perry fan. Well, she has tens of millions of Facebook fans (69 million, to be precise), and there’s no way she could ever possibly respond to each and every fan. So she did the next best thing – she created a Katy Perry chatbot for Facebook Messenger.
The whole experience is rather entertaining. For example, as soon as you start interacting with the bot, it’s racing to learn as much about you as possible from information you’ve already told Facebook. Within seconds (no more waiting on hold for 30 minutes!), the bot is welcoming you by name. And then it shoots over a quick GIF of Katy waving hello. Then, to get over the inevitable awkward moment of not knowing what to say to this bot, Katy is asking you to do all kinds of things like tapping on buttons to send her “hearts” and “balloons.” In between, she’s sending over new music clips and asking you if you’d like to buy any of her music. Then, she’s asking you for your location and whether you’d like to know about future tour dates.
It’s all rather clever – especially how the bot is constantly looking for ways to sell you stuff in a cute, bot-like way. You will probably learn more about Katy Perry in 3 minutes of interaction with her bot than you would by any other form of interaction with a human. This is a new kind of “social” experience.
Chatbots are the future of customer service
From the beginning, the entire premise of social media was that one-on-one personal interaction would be possible with friends and fans. But guess what? It’s impossible to keep up with hundreds – if not thousands – of people. Chatbots may not be perfect, but they certainly create a new type of customer service interaction that’s actually somewhat enjoyable. That’s more than you can say for most phone-based and web-based customer service interactions.