Bots vs. Humans – A Marketer’s View

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Michael Deane

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Be it Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik or Telegram, all the major messaging apps have launched their own bot platforms. At the same time, more and more companies are turning to chatbots to automate support-related tasks and help streamline the customer journey.

While at this point in time bots are mainly capable of handling simpler requests, advances in AI mean that we’ll most likely be able to hand over a considerable amount of our routine work at some point in the near future. But are we getting closer to the day when bots will completely take over our marketing campaigns? Personally, I don’t think so. Here’s why:

Like It or Not, the Future is Probably Bot-Filled

Recent research by Gartner has predicted that by 2020, 50% of companies will spend more on bots and chatbots than on traditional mobile apps.

One of the problems with apps is that people tend to download them, try them out and then never use them again – studies show that users just rotate the same five apps. That’s a lot of investment on the part of brands for ultimately minimal impact.

But as we well know, people love to text, and with advances in Natural Language Programming (NLP) making chatbots  increasingly human-like, those chatbots are growing increasingly popular with consumers. Twilio has found that 66% of the latter actually preferred to interact with companies via messaging apps.

A chatbot therefore makes sense from a ROI point of view. Your brand app, however informative and entertaining, is unlikely to be able to compete with the likes of Facebook and Google for people’s attention. An informative and entertaining chatbot that’s integrated into the messaging platforms your customers are already using every day, however, is a whole different matter.

What Bots Get Right

While developing a chatbot is, in my opinion, a great step forward for your brand, it’s important to keep in mind that there are some things bots are great at – and others that it’s best to leave to humans for the time being.

Bots are great at computation. They can sift through vast quantities of data and detect patterns that would take even the most competent marketing analyst thousands of years to deliver. What’s more, they can draw on that same data to provide valuable insights and carefully crafted buyer personas that will then enable you to take your marketing one step further.

Once they’ve got those personas down to a T, they can help you develop personalised marketing messages that will feel like they’re from a trusted friend rather than a brand.

Chatbots in particular are great at automating simple tasks that eat up your working day. This is particularly true when it comes to customer service, where chatbots can handle simple support requests and filter conversations, pointing clients towards human agents if necessary. Machine-learning-powered chatbots can take this even further by personalising their responses and improving them over time. While that technology is in its infancy, we’re looking towards an exciting future.

When You Need a Human Touch

Human agents, on the other hand, aren’t so great at analysing huge amounts of data – at least not at bot-level speed or efficiency. What they are good at is interpreting and reacting to human emotions, in a way that bots aren’t (yet) equipped to do.

Want to help your customers easily locate up-to-date pricing information, enquire about returns policies or compare two different products to find out which one is right for them? Set up a chatbot. An irate customer wanting to know ASAP why their order hasn’t turned up two weeks down the line or complaining of having been overcharged? Get a human on the line.

While efficiency and swift response time are a must for brands in this day and age (according to the Lead Response Management Study, the odds of qualifying a lead in 5 minutes versus 30 drop 21 times), it’s also true that people value an emotional connection with the companies they choose to do business with. Few things can be more damaging to your relationship with your clients than a perceived lack of human connection.

So by all means, hand over those simple repetitive queries and processing tasks to chatbots, and see your teams’ productivity rocket as a result. However, don’t make the mistake of trying to pass your bots off as human. You’ll notice that successful brand chatbots, such as those offered by Sephora and Starbucks, are absolutely upfront about their true nature, which in no way prevents them from having a very positive impact on customer engagement.

In conclusion? People still like talking to people. Bots aren’t going to be completely replacing your well-trained, responsive and empathetic sales team any time soon. Ultimately, bots will facilitate and augment conversations between humans. The trick to making them work for your brand is developing a bot that’s aligned with your needs and ensuring you have a great team to take over when necessary.

Featured image: Unsplash

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Bots vs. Humans – A Mar…

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