What You Need to Know About Chatbots: The Experts Tell All

Moderated by Beatriz Warecki and Davi Ellis

Artificial Intelligence. Chatbots. The terms sound futuristic and unattainable, things that are too complicated to practically apply today. But the future is already in motion, with brands across industries applying Chatbots to further consumer engagement like never before. There is enormous potential for disruption in almost every facet of business as we know it, from ecommerce and customer service to legal and HR, forcing us to look at how we optimize humans along with technology. As part of an ongoing series of roundtables hosted by Innovation Review in partnership with PluggedIn BD, thought leaders from top agencies, messaging platforms and chatbot companies gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the status quo and what the future holds for this fascinating industry.

From the Friction of “Always On” to the Liberation of “Always Available”

The appearance of Artificial Intelligence in everyday life is changing the paradigm of how brands and consumers act and interact. A participant from Digitas put it succinctly — the concept of “always on” is transitioning into “always available”. The old “media hub model”, where you go somewhere and are told what happens, expects consumers to be proactive. Now things come to you, when you need them. An executive from R/GA added that one of the biggest benefits is doing away with the friction mobile web explosion has caused. Being able to step away from a world of many interfaces into a seamless, singular touch point is heralding a better experience for consumers. The CEO of Exclone took this a step further, pointing out that beyond the experience, chatbots turning static knowledge into interactive knowledge, creating uniquely personal experience.

Looking Beyond the Shiny and New

Even with all of these benefits, chatbots are often perceived as the “shiny new object”, frequently seen by brands as a novelty that will elevate their cool factor, reminiscent of the “I need an app!” days. But, like apps, they need to be grounded in a well-thought out strategy. All of our participants echoed a common sentiment — clients need to understand that chatbots should be an integrated component of an overall plan, not just a “repurposed app” but a channel unique to its own devices. A panel member from RAPP called chatbots the next opt-in medium, where success is based on understanding and effectively executing on a value proposition. The CEO of Dexter, a leading Chatbot platform, seconded this sentiment, saying that the key question to answer is “why is someone going to talk to this bot?”

Testing the Waters Before Jumping In

But budget doesn’t always follow brainstorm. A participant from Carat recommended acquainting brand decision makers with an existing implementation that will help frame the technology. If they engage with a Chatbot, he said, they will not only see how it works, they will also see how it generates value. R/GA added that dipping your toe in the water with a pilot is easier to approve than pushing through an untested technology as an evergreen investment. The CEO of Dexter agreed, saying that metrics will demonstrate success and help get to V2. There was also discussion around beginning with an innovation budget but transitioning to a marketing budget after proving the success and long term potential. Most agreed that innovation budgets are the first to get cut, putting a chatbot program in jeopardy if it is not considered part of a larger strategy. Another consideration is allocating brain power and budget to increasing discoverability, which may include media buys but certainly requires a well thought out promotional plan.

Targeting the Curious Class

Once the brand and budget are on board, big decisions have to be made. Carat brought up an interesting consideration, saying that clients are not buying into a chatbot, rather a channel, a platform or a brand asset. The strategy and tactics for each are very different, but all need a short and long term vision. Once they are established the brand must target the right initial audience, ideally where a chatbot can fit into existing behaviors to tackle pain points. Carat suggested looking at existing digital media forms. Those that are already engaged in an online activity, such as writing reviews, have a level of tech savvy as well a relationship with a brand, two essential prerequisites for interacting with a chatbot. Digitas added that these segments represent the “Curious Class”, a group willing to learn more and try out new things, making them ripe for targeting. There is a greater risk of failure when a brand tries to create a consumer behavior or interest that doesn’t already exist.

Telling the Brand Story with a Personality and Purpose

The way to approach the audience, once established, said Digitas, is through good storytelling with a purpose and a personality. That story must be told through the brand’s voice and point of view though the chatbot might have a name and personality all its own. RAPP added that chatbots are a way to extract a brand’s thought leadership and let its values shine. A great example, as mentioned by RAPP is Gerber’s “Dorothy”, a “personal baby expert” bot available 24/7 to address the pain points of new parents. Named after the wife of Gerber’s founder, Dorothy embodies the soul of the brand with an experience that is tied to brand’s core offering. R/GA explained that “Rose”, a chatbot created for the Cosmopolitan was a success because she offered instantaneous 24/7 virtual concierge services, even beyond those offered by humans, with a good dose of sass. The CEO of Reply.ai pointed out that “code-free bot creation allows people that know the subject matter best to take over” The CEO of Dexter added that reallocating power from engineering puts the tools in the hands of the brand and its copywriters, giving them complete control over how the chatbot is positioned.

But the writing challenge goes beyond positioning. Digitas bought up an interesting consideration — since chatbots are what you put into them, brands have to be careful of creating a dangerous bias. Even though all brands embody a bias as part of their point of view, is important to define the fine line between a positive and a negative impact on the consumer relationship. RAPP pointed out that another challenge is writing for different modes. Banter is very different than handling a customer service issue. The key is to maintain consistency across the experience, which is the foundation of developing a human-like personality with empathy. Understanding where the consumer lies in terms of the decision tree is also fundamental to writing for an effective experience. Automat.ai, a chatbot platform that has had significant success in beauty, said that brands must account for and surface a dialog, based on the user’s position in the funnel, that will ultimately lead to conversion. And while the small talk adds trust and familiarity to the exchange, Carat pointed out that writers also have to consider important touch points, such as human handoff, to optimize the user’s experience. Chatbots are a new, important channel but we have to be aware that in certain situations, other channels can still do a better job.

A Treasure Trove of Information

The most interesting benefit of chatbots is their treasure trove of information. Carat explained that given the depth of chatbot interaction they are a potent way to better understand an audience, as well as their needs and emotions. Think of them as a living, breathing panel that offers an opportunity to pulse the consumer at every turn and continually strengthen your relationship. Kik added that extracting the right insights depends on identifying KPIs that are based on execution goals across the spectrum of the experience. The CEO of Reply.ai, a customer service oriented chatbot platform, explained that while a customer service engagement KPI might focus on containment, an execution such as the Cosmopolitan may focus on repeat engagement. Annalect, a data focused agency, added that repeat engagement is a true signal of success. People are unforgiving and getting them to come back is very difficult. Repeat visits signal that the chatbot is providing value. Carat pointed out the importance of gleaning both qualitative and quantitative insights that can be used to prioritize the most strategic segments. Annalect argued that the opportunity goes beyond segments to offer users a truly personalized experience. Key data points can be flagged to create new branches along the decision tree. RAPP added that the ability to progressively collect data at scale while balancing insights with empathy and human instinct will be the key to increasing value on an individual level. Analytics and optimization were viewed as such important components of a chatbot execution the group postulated they might become a whole industry on their own.

Looking to the Future with Learnings from the Present

The evolution of the chatbot landscape and its success will hinge on taking the learnings of today and applying them to the executions of tomorrow. The insights from our roundtable can be practically applied to every company and brand looking delve into the world of artificial intelligence. To sum up:

  1. Chatbots have the potential to provide tremendous value to the user while deepening relationships with brands
  2. Success pivots on the strength of the value proposition
  3. Test with a pilot, then transition to a long term strategy
  4. When it comes to chatbots, personality matters — a lot
  5. Analytics, insights and optimization are the keys to continued success

What the future holds is only for time to tell, but it is a safe bet that it will contain a whole lot of chatbots.

Attendees included leadership from Kik, R/GA, DigitasLBi, Carat, RAPP, Annalect, Exclone, Dexter, Chattifi, TheScore, Automat.ai, Reply.ai and Octane.ai.

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