Night of the Living Chatbots

Blog Chatbots

Robotic terror or your brand’s best friend?

What are they? How do they work? What can they do? Will they become sentient and bring an end to all human life on Earth? Whenever a new technology finds its way to the business world, there are burning questions everyone wants answered. The integration of chatbots into marketing is no different. So, let’s save the horror stories for Halloween and take a minute to break down the chatbot fears.

What is a chatbot?

In layman’s terms, a bot is any computer application that’s programmed to perform a task. A chatbot is just a bot we program to chat with people! While this technology may seem straight out of some dark sci-fi movie, it’s actually nothing new. The first chatbot came out in 1966, when computer scientists at MIT developed the Eliza program to simulate talking to a psychiatrist. What is new is how companies are using chatbots to revolutionize customer service.

So how exactly do they work?

Without getting too into the technical mumbo jumbo, there are two basic chatbot models. One is query-based with the ability to answer a few limited questions but not much else. The other is the artificial intelligence or machine-learning model. These chatbots can answer more non-direct questions and actually learn new things from each conversation they have. Crazy, right? (Just don’t fall in love with one like Joaquin Phoenix in that movie, Her.)

What can they do?

It’s a chatbot’s job to understand what the user on the other end wants by asking a series of questions. When the bot asks enough questions to figure it out, it will crawl its brand’s website to find what the consumer is asking for and present the answer back to them. This is meant to mimic the experience of speaking with a customer service representative at a store. And, it means your customer can complete the whole buying process without leaving the messenger app.

The main reason companies use chatbots is to free up their customer service team for more complex issues. The bots handle simple tasks like taking orders and answering “What are your hours?” and “Does this come in a different color?” so your customer service reps can tackle the more involved problems your users might have. And unlike their fleshy human counterparts, chatbots don’t need sleep (or paychecks). That means users have round-the-clock access to customer service!

Facebook has been using its extremely popular messaging app as a hub for 100,000+ of these chatbots. Companies like Pizza Hut and the Wall Street Journal use chatbots to help users with everything from ordering a pizza to checking the current price of a stock, no human interaction required. Don’t believe it? Just start a conversation with any large brand’s Facebook page and odds are, you’ll be speaking with a chatbot.

Will they become sentient and bring an end to all human life on Earth?

Probably. Just kidding! We don’t know… maybe. What we do is know is that chatbots are the problem-solvers of the future. They’re meant to be a useful tool to help users interact with your brand, not just another marketing channel to bombard people with messages and coupons. (That’s what email’s for!) If your user feels your chatbot is being spammy or annoying, they’ll click out of the conversation without a second thought, just like they’d unfollow your brand on Twitter or unsubscribe from your email list for the same reasons.

Oh, and if a chatbot ever messages you about “destroying all humans,” it might be time to leave the app.

Thinking of adding a chatbot to your site? We can help talk you through the process. We’ll even send real humans to do the job. Get in touch!

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