Justin Lee
Jul 5, 2018 · 10 min read

There’s an African proverb that says: “When the music changes, so does the dance”.

It illustrates a few key learnings: the importance of listening to the beat, and then adapting to what is coming our way to go with the flow.

It’s also representative of the shift in the way consumers are engaging in online interactions today — and businesses need to listen attentively so they can best change their approaches to move in tandem to the beat.

Consumer behaviours and expectations have undergone a seismic shift.

Long gone are the days where consumers are satisfied with traditional online experiences.

A recent industry study, the “2018 State of Chatbots Report” highlighted common frustrations among website users:

… the site was difficult to navigate (34 percent), users were unable to obtain answers to simple questions (31 percent) and basic information about a company were hard to locate (28 percent).

In addition, users are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media.

The number of global monthly active users for the top four messaging apps exceeded that of the top four social media networks in 2015, and these numbers continue to grow.

As activity on messaging apps increases, it creates greater opportunities for chatbots to facilitate the usage of messaging apps.

In our on-demand, real-time world today, users seek immediacy.

They expect information to be delivered swiftly, or actions and purchases to be completed within a few quick steps — and will easily turn to competitors who provide better experiences if their expectations aren’t met.

And here’s where chatbots come into play.

Let’s start off with defining chatbots: simply put, a bot is a computer program that automates tasks, through holding a conversation by text or auditory methods.

Bots typically fall under two main categories: rule-based bots and intelligent bots. The former functions off rules, and responds to specific comments.

These bots are unable to handle more complex situations, where the conversation patterns differs from the rules by which the bot is trained.

In contrast, the latter is powered by artificial intelligence (AI), which enables it to handle more complex commands, accept a wider range of user input, provide personalised responses and become smarter by learning from the conversations it has with people over time.

While chatbots have been repeatedly dismissed as a hype, recent market trends and statistics are indicating otherwise:

  • Grand View Research reports that the global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025.
  • A survey by Oracle of chief marketing officers, chief strategy officers, senior marketers and senior executives across France, the Netherlands, South Africa and the UK, the majority (80 percent) of respondents indicated that they already used chatbots or planned to implement them by 2020.

Use cases and examples for marketers

Businesses large and small have leveraged chatbots to improve customer engagement, reduce costs and increase efficiency. From content delivery to lead qualification, here are five use cases you might consider exploring:

1. Provide exceptional customer care experiences

To stand out in a competitive landscape, businesses cannot afford to deliver a less than exceptional customer care experience.

This means that responses and solutions need to be speedy, accurate, personalised, offer multi-channel interactions and allow consumers to have a greater level of control (such as through self-service solutions).

This sounds like a mouthful — but here’s where chatbots can be brought in to help support teams cope with rising demands.

It’s the case at KLM, where BlueBot, an AI-powered cross-platform service bot was launched to provide support for a 250-strong customer care team handling enquiries amounting to over 16,000 cases per week.

What’s interesting is that BlueBot’s offerings extends beyond the initial stages of customer support — where chatbots are typically deployed — to providing value across the entire customer journey.

Beyond receiving check-in reminders and flight status updates to making flight bookings, KLM customers can also count on BlueBot for handy and customised packing tips.

Based on a user’s destination, their trip duration and the local weather at their destination of choice, the bot offers assistance through a smart interactive voice-driven packing list.

2. Streamline marketing operations

Conducting competitor research, discovering the latest content trends and digging up information on target contacts can be a breeze when you have the right chatbot on your side.

Bots are changing the way we do search, and rather than having to manually research and pull information from various sites, you’ll have a whole host of information right at your fingertips by simply asking a question.

Take GrowthBot as an example. The bot instantly displays the answers to your questions, which could range from “How much traffic does moz.com get?” to “Which organic keywords are freshdesk.com ranking for?”

Beyond providing answers to general questions, other marketing use cases for GrowthBot include gathering comparative insights, checking statistics like employee counts and Alexa Ranking, as well as identifying prospective customers.

3. Serve as a content delivery channel

Amidst a sea of overwhelming content, audiences are increasingly drawn towards content and experiences that are well-curated and customised.

With chatbots, marketers are able to deliver content in a personalised manner, and create in-message interactions that are authentic, engaging and make users feel valued.

The key lies in creating an experience that feels conversational, not transactional and draws users in in a more natural manner.

Food Network’s chatbot is a case in point: through the chatbot, users can ask for recipes in different ways — by typing in an ingredient, meal type, chef or cooking show.

But the bot functions as more than a recipe helper. Learning from past interactions with users, the team discovered that users who interacted with the bot weren’t always seeking out specific recipes, but wanted a more fluid search experience that provided ideas for their meal preparation process.

As such, these user needs were addressed through incorporating features like the “Meal Match” and “Surprise Me”, where users receive entertaining and inspirational content around food.

4. Boost sales processes

Providing real-time responses can make all the difference when it comes to converting leads, as indicated by a research conducted by InsideSales.com.

The research revealed that the time that lapses between the lead generation form submission and a salesperson making contact has a direct impact on whether the leads are converted into customers. It states:

“The odds of contacting a lead if they are called within 5 minutes are 100 times higher versus one called in 30 minutes. The odds of qualifying a lead if called in 5 minutes are 21 times higher versus 30 minutes.”

And while these insights revolve around phone contact, it does highlight an important rule that applies across the board, regardless of whichever channel you’re using to connect with your customers: following up quickly is key.

Chatbots are a great way for businesses to provide real-time responses — without having to incur substantial manpower costs.

Tools like Hubspot’s Chatbot Builder or Drift’s LeadBot can be set up to interact with leads in a timely, unobtrusive manner.

For example, the bot can be launched only when users visit specific pages on your site, exhibit behaviours that show that they’re having problems seeking additional information or when they’ve stayed on your site for a given duration of time.

5. Drive high-quality leads

Feldman Automotive Group successfully tapped on chatbots to drive sales-ready leads when it launched click-to-Messenger ads to reach audiences on Facebook.

The target audience was qualified through location targeting (they had to be within a 25 mile radius from Feldman Auto dealers) and through chatbot interactions (the bot posed a series of questions that steered individuals towards the most suitable call-to-action, like submitting a lead form or confirming an appointment at a dealership).

Within a few months of testing out this strategy, the company reached over 100,000 people and generated about 50 sales per month.

They also achieved a click-through rate of 4.5 to 5 percent — a figure that was significantly higher than the norm for automotive campaigns.

Exercise caution: Pitfalls to avoid and tips for implementation

Don’t jump on the bandwagon

Marketers have a tendency to jump on a trend or emerging marketing channel that drives results — and then wear it out by utilising it too much, all the time.

We run a similar risk with chatbot technology.

While industry surveys — like a Retale study which suggests that the majority of millennials are having positive experiences with chatbots — are helpful for getting a general overview of the usage and popularity of chatbots, they sometimes depict a one-sided perspective: that brands and marketers are better off implementing chatbots, and that sooner is better.

But that isn’t always the case, and it can be helpful to take a step back to consider the following questions before you adopt chatbots for your business:

  • Do other elements in your marketing campaign support the implementation of chatbots?
  • Is the customer experience well-thought-out and effective?
  • What is the use case for implementing a chatbot?
  • Are chatbots the best option for delivering the information?

Don’t lose focus

Starting small is key. Rather than creating a bot for an entire brand or multiple goals, it’s best to begin by focusing on a single purpose or campaign. By doing too much, you run the risk of confusing users and garnering poor adoption rates.

This is the approach taken by Sephora when it launched a chatbot on the messaging app Kik. The team narrowed down on a specific goal: to engage teenage girls in a way that’s natural and educational.

Sephora started off with sharing a variety of content, such as on-demand access to tutorials and product guides.

Through learning and experimentation, the brand then moved on to connect with their target audience in novel, unexpected ways — like holding sweepstakes and auctions on Kik, along with creating campaigns that drove real-time engagement with its users.

Beware of over-automation

Bots aren’t always better. Tesla’s recent production hiccup proves this point — Musk acknowledged that “too much new technology” had been put into the Model 3 all at once, resulting in a production slowdown.

With chatbots, Paul Adams, VP of Product at Intercom suggests that we need to understand “their strengths and weaknesses relative to other ways of doing things”, and employ them in “clearly bounded win-win scenarios”.

One such scenario would be implementing a chatbot to deal with repetitive customer care questions, which leaves the support team with more bandwidth to handle complex enquiries or situations.

Yet, Adams warns that bots aren’t the best option for all low-level, repetitive tasks. In fact, there are instances where bots are the wrong solution to start off with — such as tasks that can be easily completed using a using form or workflow — and these are situations that marketers need to guard against.

He elaborates: “People are blindly applying bots to interaction design problems that already have better solutions. People are just redesigning terrible logic trees inside messaging apps.”

Continual optimisation is key

Keep in mind that implementing a chatbot isn’t a one-off process. Instead, it’s about playing the long game, as Clara de Soto, cofounder of customer experience automation platform Reply.ai explains:

“The way we see it, 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.”

That’s because a large part of the work will take place after launching your chatbot. Your users will interact in unexpected ways, so you’ll need to constantly optimise and make improvements to the system, user experience and conversation flow.

Start off with mapping out your success metrics, and identify the ways in which you’ll measure these. Sessions per user, interactions per user, confusion rate, response time, conversation steps, goal completion rate and satisfaction rate are examples of metrics that are typically measured.

But don’t focus solely on quantifiable measures — it’s just as important to seek out qualitative feedback. According to Dennis Yang, co-founder of bot analytics platform Dashbot, asking for feedback is the one single strategy that outstrips the rest when it comes growing and retaining users.

It’s how GameMonk, a Slack bot that provides professionals with a fun break during their work day continually drives user engagement.

In gathering feedback, the team learnt about two important facts they wouldn’t otherwise have discovered: their users were feeling rushed in between questions, and that international users felt that the bot was English-centric.

After making changes to address these comments, the team saw a 24 percent rise in session length, along with a 23 percent increase in sentiment.

Chatbot tools and platforms for marketers

If you’re looking to adopt chatbots for your business, here are a few tools and platforms to consider:

  • ManyChat is a bot platform that allows small and medium businesses to communicate, market, sell and support through Facebook Messenger. It’s a great option for individuals without coding skills, but does have limitations in terms of flexibility for custom coding.
  • Bold360 ai is a chatbot and virtual customer assistant. Its key features include the AI-powered agent assist, which automatically handles repetitive customer interactions, as well as intelligent self-service for search and FAQs. It also offers integration with business systems like Salesforce, which removes the need for users to switch between various applications.
  • GrowthBot: I’ve touched on how marketers can use GrowthBot for competitor research, searching up target contacts, as well as uncovering content trends and statistics above. In addition to providing answers to general questions quickly, GrowthBot can also connect to your HubSpot account (and other tools like Google Analytics) so that you can complete tasks through the bot more quickly.
  • Drift: Think of Driftbots as handy 24/7 virtual assistants for your website. They can help capture and qualify leads in real-time, disqualify leads and route the conversation so that site visitors are connected to the right staff.
  • Conversable: Conversable is a SaaS platform that lets businesses design, build and distribute AI-enhanced messaging and voice experiences across an array of platforms, including Facebook Messenger, SMS, Google Home, Amazon Echo and more. It’s targeted at Fortune 500 companies though, so it won’t be a suitable option for small to medium businesses.

Meet your consumers where they are

Consumer expectations and behaviours are constantly shifting — and marketers need to be sensitive to these changes and adapt accordingly.

Bots can be a game-changer in many ways, as long as they are employed in win-win situations where the benefits and potential pitfalls have been carefully considered.

The Startup

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Justin Lee

Written by

Growth & Acquisition @HubSpot. In perpetual software update mode.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +500K people. Follow to join our community.

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