Bots: What Are They and Does Your Company Need One?

Adam Quaile

24th January 2017

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Chatbots and automation bots are one of the hottest topics in the digital industry right now. And with social media giant Facebook making it easier for everyone to build bots and reach the 900 million people who use its Messenger app, they’re becoming increasingly popular with companies from a number of different sectors.

But what are they? And how can brands actually use them to improve their business? The Mashbo dev team have put their heads together and provided a complete low down.

What Are Bots?

First of all useful bots have been around since the late 80s with the advent of IRC chat bots, allowing users to ask them questions and have them run certain tasks on external servers or directly in an IRC channel. Chatbots have been in and out of the news over the years with experiments such as Cleverbot making headlines, which has been online since 1996.

With the rise of services like Siri, Cortana, Amazon Alexa and other personal assistant style bots the idea of interacting with bots has entered the social conciousness and is now being exploited by the large tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.

While they have a number of potential functions, bots offer a more direct way to interact with an online service. Bots interact with people in a more ‘conversational’ way than typical traditional automated marketing or customer services methods.

They use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to mimic a two-way ‘conversation’ with the user who interacts with it, responding with an appropriate option from a set of pre-defined responses depending on the information that the user inputs.

Bots are known for being quite limited in terms of the answers they can provide, as everything is pre-programmed. However, with AI making its way into people’s homes with the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home, it’s only a matter of time before bots become more ‘intelligent’ and responsive to consumers’ needs.

What Are They Being Used For?

Although more brands are starting to experiment with how they can use bots, there seems to be two standout ways in which they are being used.

The first of these is from a customer service driven point of view. Bots will deal with customer enquiries such as changing the address linked to your bank account, or tracking the location of your package.

Some companies have taken this further, creating bots that offer a whole service to the user rather than responding to specific enquires. For example, Domino’s Pizza’s “DOM the Pizza Bot” allows customers to order pizza through Facebook Messenger, and the Mondrian hotel in London allows people to book rooms using their Messenger bot.

There has also been a number of brands utilising bots to create a more personal experience for the customer. For example, ecommerce site notonthehighstreet’s ‘Elf’ bot helped their customers to find Christmas presents for people, based on a series of answers they gave about the intended recipient’s preferences.

Similarly, shopping startup Spring was one of the first brands to start using the Facebook Messenger bot feature with its ‘Shop Spring’ bot. Described as a “personal shopping assistant”, the bot will ‘ask’ the user what they’re looking for, with simple buttons to direct the user’s responses. The bot will then continue to ‘ask’ the user similar questions based on product category, product type and price point, eventually offering a tailored list of product suggestions which the user can click through to purchase the item.

As well as these customer service focused bots, there has been a rise in brands using bots for solely marketing purposes. This is an entirely new approach, and it’s one that has a lot of marketers excited about moving away from the usual marketing communications that are currently taking up their customers’ inboxes and news feeds.

To promote the new series of its show ‘Humans’, Channel 4 created a bot that allows users to have a ‘conversation’ with one of the synthetics from the show.

Similarly, to advertise its new release, popular video game series Call of Duty used social media to drive fans to its Facebook Messenger bot for a ‘secure chat’ with its character Lt. Reyes. The bot also allowed users to solve a puzzle hidden within the conversation thread.

Bots such as these could see a move towards more brands trying to make their marketing and advertising more ‘interactive’ and offer an experience that is more exciting than receiving traditional comms material.

The Benefits of Bots

As the number of brands making bots a part of their digital offering increases, the benefits of using utilising bots are becoming clearer.

Perhaps the most prominent benefit of bots that are integrated into apps and messaging services is the presence and reach that they have. As users have the bot present on their device, either through an app or messaging service, messages sent by the bot get on average a 100% delivery rate – and therefore a 95% open rate.

Similarly, due to the integration with messenger services, users will receive direct notifications from the bot to their home screen – making them more likely to interact with the bot as the action of doing so is as easy as clicking through the notification.

Another benefit of bots, which could potentially make them superior to email, is the preservation of bot databases. Once an email database has been set it up, it starts to degrade over the years as people unsubscribe and change their email addresses. However, all messenger platform bots require is the user’s account for that service. Think how few times – if any – you have changed your Facebook account to a whole new one. As people’s identity usually stays consistent on messenger services, the only likely way the bot’s database will degrade is through users unsubscribing, meaning this will happen at a smaller rate.

Due to the user’s identity being consistent, this also results in a more streamlined process when it comes to customer service. Instead of having to check and verify the user is who they say they are, this information will already have been processed through earlier interactions with the bot, resulting in a faster and easier approach when dealing with customer service enquiries.

How Can Bots Help My Brand?

It’s all very well and good discussing big name brands and how they’re making use of this technology, but how can companies who don’t have the money of Channel 4 or notonthehighstreet get the most out of bots?

When answering this question – you need to consider the two stand out solutions that bots can provide for businesses, and that’s a) speeding up repetitive customer service processes, and b) offering a more streamlined and convenient service for your customers.

So, if your business deals with a number of repetitive customer service processes such as stock checks or returns, or deals with a lot of the same questions from your customers, a bot could be the way forward.

Not only could you improve the speed and efficiency of your daily operations, but also improve customer experience – and therefore brand loyalty.

Like the sound of that? Get in touch with us to find out how we can build a bot that improves business for you and your customers.

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