Even though they haven’t been the new kids on the block for a while now, chatbots are still finding genuinely new applications across practically every department in practically every industry.
When used to help patients with form-filling in healthcare institutions or other administrative tasks, they can contribute to spectacular savings and workflow optimization, but it is in areas like digital marketing that they have the ability to achieve an almost unlimited scaling potential.
When it comes to finding a use for them in the industry, as long as you can muster up a sliver of creativity, or do at least a bit of research on how these programs have been successfully used in the past, you should always be able to come up with new ways to benefit from using chatbots.
Before going into the specific ways to do so, let’s just get some basics out of the way first.
What are Chatbots?
Ever since 1966 and ELIZA, which seems to be generally accepted as one of the first chatbots, these programs have been widely mislabeled and misunderstood, only to recently once again enter the scene in a big way, aided by developments in AI.
Speaking of AI, one of the main misconceptions about software that is, appropriately or not, given the ‘chatbot’ label is that it necessarily has to rely on Artificial Intelligence or, more accurately, machine learning. The above-mentioned ELIZA, as well as a huge majority of its descendants, including currently available solutions, however relied on much simpler methods, like pattern matching and basic database search based on provided keywords.
While some chatbots do come with evolutionary algorithms, which are becoming more sophisticated based on user-provided input, this is still far from actual AI. Even with all the developments in machine learning, big data mining, natural language processing, etc. the Turing test, devised to establish if a machine can successfully simulate a human in a conversation has still not been passed to universal satisfaction, without the results being disputed.
From social media sentiment analysis to serving as a first point of contact, chatbots are in digital marketing often used as shortcuts to accessing seriously advanced backend capabilities like big data mining, basically serving as your UI to a much more complex solution than its conversational format might imply.
With that established, here are some of the main applications of different kinds of chatbots in digital marketing.
While some are used as a process automation method and others contribute with their machine learning capabilities, chatbots can provide several scalable and targetable methods for feedback and data retrieval:
- Direct feedback gathering – auto-response chatbots are not only capable of organizing the information volunteered by the customer and allowing you to easily analyze it, they can be set up so that they actively ask for the input you are currently interested in. From analyzing customer reactions to a proposed innovation, to finding out what’s wrong with literally any part of your website, business model or brand, having a chatbot continuously polling your visitors can result in amazing audience insights, as long as you actually know what to do with all that data.
- Background feedback gathering – what you don’t get to ask your visitors directly might be answered by taking a look at their behavior, drop-offs, engagement, etc. Even when this is not their primary purpose, some chatbots come as a perfect complement to more traditional analytics tools.
- Social network sentiment analysis – While observing the behavior of visitors and engaging them in direct (though chatbot-assisted) conversation is imperative, applying the same data gathering and processing abilities in your social media strategy is equally essential. Depending on the size and engagement of your following, you might be faced with a constant stream of data, which needs to be classified and mined for any useful insights.
You know what’s even better than being able to take note of each concern that your customers were so generous to express? Being able to instantly address it, of course. While answering basic questions about the service or the products a brand provides is one of the more common ways of leveraging chatbots to increase conversion rates and optimize the user journey, this doesn’t just mean explaining where the ‘register’ button is.
Chatbots have, for instance, been successfully used by software developers to help with the onboarding of new users, where they were shown to be capable of drastically reducing the learning curve and increasing software adoption rates. By understanding the user’s intent, regardless of how their query was formulated, and returning the appropriate answer, these chatbots are solving one major issue with software onboarding – i.e. when relying on FAQs and tutorials, the users had to know enough about the software to be able to ask the right question, or to know where to look for the answer. While chatbots are still not capable of completely replacing humans in this regard, they are stunningly efficient in understanding what the customer is having trouble with, even when the correlation is not perfectly obvious.
While building a brand voice and actually creating a bond with your audience demands a great deal of human touch, some of the aspects of brand promotion and development can actually benefit from a bit of automation.
Research into natural language programing is building upon what we know from basic psychology, marketing, and all the other disciplines trying to find rules in how our emotional responses are triggered. Through the methods described above, some chatbots are equipped to recognize user reactions and respond appropriately. Naturally, to reach this level of sophistication, they first need to be fed enough data and to have gone through enough ‘training’.
Regardless of whether you use them to engage and help the visitors of your social media accounts or those coming to your website; while they are not always the most skilled conversationalists, they answer immediately and that is priceless in the instant gratification culture we have grown accustomed to.
Furthermore, it could be argued that they are perhaps even more suitable than human employees to uphold one of the essential rules of branding – i.e. image consistency. In other words, if you have a large customer support team, you can instruct them to use a certain register and level of familiarity when interacting with customers, and can give them general guidelines on what you imagine your brand voice should be, but you cannot be sure about how they are going to interpret your instructions, and how they are going to act upon them. In other words, you are eliminating the human factor, at least from the initial steps of engagement, which can be of great help, but which can also severely backfire if not executed with extreme caution.
After all, just think of all the competent, polite and earnestly helpful customer support operatives who couldn’t find a way to get through to a particularly difficult customer, and imagine what chances a chatbot would have in a similar situation.
The bottom line
We hope that we have abundantly illustrated the benefits of using chatbots to:
- Aid your research, behavior analysis and customer targeting
- Increase customer retention by providing immediate, intuitive answers to any questions they might have
- Building a cohesive brand image
While we have focused on their potential more than we did on their drawbacks, that is not to say that everyone who has tried to incorporate these programs into their promotional strategy has struck pure gold. You need to have a clear idea of what you want a particular chatbot to do, and have to be prepared to invest quite a bit of time and effort into instructing it how to satisfactorily perform its task. However, once you do get there, the returns can be incredible.