Understanding chatbots

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Understanding chatbots

It’s no wonder you’re hearing a lot about chatbots these days. With 2.5 billion people worldwide using at least one messaging platform, and more than 1.6 billion of them using Facebook Messenger, social messaging is driving an exciting opportunity for retailers. As with the advent of mobile, and with the web before that, AI Chatbots for retail offer a fresh way for brands to interact with their customers. Understanding chatbots and where they fit will help you get quickly up to speed on social selling. 

Basically, a chatbot is simply an automated way to guide the conversation with your online or mobile customer, whether she’s on Facebook, or Skype, or even your own website. Flexible, scalable, and with a unique ability to meet your customers wherever they are, chatbots are well suited to handle the ever-increasing speed of ecommerce.

While some brands are still thinking of chatbots as a nice-to-have, many others are already leveraging bots as a springboard to the future of retail experience. (Hint: it’s conversational!) We’re seeing chatbots across the spectrum: Mass-market and luxury brands. Finance, healthcare, retail, and travel verticals. And audiences from boomers to millennials to Gen Z.  

So what can chatbots do, anyway?

 

The right chatbot for the right task

”Where are your Los Angeles stores?” “When will my order arrive?”

A chatbot can easily address common questions directly and efficiently — store locations, shipping and return policies, FAQs — meaning your customer can spend her time shopping your website instead of searching for answers, and your customer service teams can focus on more complex inquiries. Often quick to deploy, these basic chatbots for retail get right down to business.

“Help! I have a gift exchange at work!” “Where is the dress I saw in that ad?”

Let’s face it, sometimes it can be challenging to find things online, even if you know what you’re looking for. Included as part of your merchandising plans or marketing initiatives, chatbots add another touchpoint to inspire your customer while reinforcing your messaging and your brand. Understanding chatbots and how they can guide your customers as they shop, recommending specific product assortments or promoting special offer campaigns. Holiday gift finder, anyone?

“Do you have something like this in blue?” “I need to find some boots.”

Integrate a chatbot with your product catalog, and it becomes a true virtual associate; greeting your customer, asking him how it can help, and presenting only the best choices. These bots need to ‘understand’ your customer’s needs, intent, and shopping pattern. Does your bot know what’s most popular in a category? Can your bot ‘remember’ your customer, maintaining its state as she returns? Implemented using your existing product search capability, or maybe even enhanced through AI, this one puts the ‘chat’ in ‘chatbot.’

 

Chatbots must know what they don’t know

Whichever chatbot is the right one for your brand, we believe the best bot is the one that knows what it can do, and what it can’t, offering a seamless experience to your customer. Sometimes, that means letting your customer input text instead of selecting a button. And sometimes, that means that your bot needs to happily transition your customer to a human.

 

Making it work

Adding intelligent chatbots to your customer engagement channels can strengthen your reach, streamline your processes, and help you make your numbers along the way. Sounds like a win, right? Like everything else, details matter. Understanding chatbots, involving the right internal teams from design to deployment, selecting the best methods for customer interaction and giving the chatbot access to the backend information and systems it needs to do its job are critical for success.

While chatbots may seem like just another fun new way to engage with your customers, their potential to drive innovation in everything from voice shopping to data and AI is huge. We’ve only scratched the surface. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look — meeting some chatbots, learning how they can ignite your Holiday (yes, there’s still time), and exploring what comes next. In the meantime, whether you’re using chatbots already or you’re thinking about how to start, we’d love to, er, chat with you in real life!


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