Used thoughtfully, bots offer great return on investment, particularly for marketing, sales and customer service teams. But beware the top end of the bot market. Recently, there’s been amazing advances in the use of artificial intelligent (AI) in bots. But AI is still expensive and over-sold – and its reality often falls short of its maker’s promises.
In most cases, a simple, lower-cost bot will be all you need. There’s a few rules, explained below, to follow when evaluating, pricing and piloting bots. But first, let’s start with a (very) brief explanation of what bots are.
What is a Bot?
In its simplest form, a bot is an automated system that answers questions, usually via Facebook Messenger or a website. It might help you book a flight, or get more information about a technical problem, or find the time a film is showing – usually relatively straightforward information, delivered through simple menus. This kind of bot doesn’t pretend you’re speaking to a human.
For this style of bot, built using Facebook Messenger, we’re seeing a 99% read rate, 60% of bot visitors signing up for further updates, and a 21% clickthrough. If you’re currently struggling to reach your audience through social networks, bots dramatically increase your ability to get your message out.
Then there’s AI bots, usually known as “chatbots”, which claim to cross-sell product by predicting what users will buy. Or answer complex questions, drawing information from multiple databases, and turning that information into a response that makes sense to humans. Or – a step further – they claim to be able to convince users that they’re speaking with a human.
Chatbots make very big claims, and the reality doesn’t always match up.
A checklist: willBots work for you?
AI moves very quickly. One day we probably will have chatbots that act like humans, that can understand any human query. For now, we’re still years from that promise being fulfilled. In the meantime, here are a few fields in which more traditional bots are useful right now:
- Sales: My product range is new or unusual, and customers need to become familiar with the product before they will buy it. This is where bots excel compared with other forms of marketing – they can be very persuasive. A bot can have a conversation with the user, letting the user pick the questions they want answered, and help discreetly resolve sales objections.
It’s also easier to personalise the one-on-one interaction of a bot than it is to run a personalised email campaign or website.
- Customer service: My business has to answer the same set of questions from customers, over and over, or it has to gather the same data again and again. Bots handle that kind of repetitive task beautifully, leaving your human team free to deal with unusual or more complicated requests. And because bots respond as fast as a user can read, they are far less irritating than listening through an automated phone menu that asks “press 7 to –“.
- I need to amplify messaging. Messenger updates are usually read within a minute – and, as mentioned, 60% of users subscribe to updates. This makes Messenger bots an effective channel to ask your supporters to amplify a social message – or attend a pop-up event, or invite friends to share something. And because bot tells your brand story interactively, they’re also a useful in persuading customers to become part of your brand in the first place.
- Replacing apps. I want an app, but I don’t want to pay £100,000. We’re seeing increasing numbers of customers switch from mobile apps to Messenger bots. Costs are reduced because you only need support Messenger, rather than the Apple and Android ecosystems. The costs to design for Messenger are also significantly lower than building a new interface from scratch.
If you’ve not considered piloting a bot, it’s definitely worth doing so. But pick the right kind of tool for your business – don’t rush in and pay top prices.
Syd Lawrence is CEO of The Bot Platform, Facebook’s only recommended partner for Bots, Messenger and Workplace based in the UK. The Bot Platform’s clients include BBC News, Chelsea FC, Sony, Universal. You can talk to the Bot Platform’s own bot at www.thebotplatform.com.