Chatbot Tracker: Are We Waiting For A Chatbot Hero?

More and more, chatbots are entering the B2C world without consumers even realizing it’s happening. But are we waiting for some big, wow-worthy, famous, life-changing chatbot in order for the concept to become mainstream? A “chatbot hero,” if you will?

Chatbots are clearly not yet dinner table discussion topics.

“There is no doubt that chatbots will become a critical onramp for brands to connect with customers,” said Jake Bennett, CTO at POP. “Chatbots [are] giving brands a direct communication channel and storefront inside the apps that users already use every day. That’s powerful.”

A recent study by Ovum reported that 53 percent of American and German respondents prefer chatting with businesses through chat apps, like Facebook Messenger, rather than speaking by phone with the business. The reason being, according to the study, that the speed at which the conversation rolls out is much higher and that they don’t have to leave an app where they’re already spending a lot of time.

The phrase “conversational commerce” is what the chatbot trend is receiving as its name.

“Chatbots as the future of conversational commerce is the next untapped opportunity for marketers,” said Alex Campbell, cofounder and CIO at Vibes, a mobile marketing technology leader who worked with Apple, Google, Chipotle, Gap and Home Depot. “It can widen the opening of the funnel by bringing in a personalized, automated messaging experience to mobile shopping.”

Campbell said chatbots are not only here to stay but that millennials will be the key to making chatbots succeed.

Shopify seems to agree, as it is becoming one of the businesses leading this “conversational commerce” concept. First, Shopify brought its merchants the capability to connect directly with customers through the Facebook Messenger platform, and now, it’s helping merchants sell directly and immediately in a more advanced fashion.

Click on the “Shop Now” button on a business’ Facebook page, and using Shopify’s Messenger sales channel, customers can browse a merchant’s product list and catalog. When ready to check out, that capability to purchase stays within Messenger to complete the action.

Experts say that businesses who are not jumping into this chat space will lose out in the long run, as competition is already likely dabbling, if not already immersing itself.

Some question the sturdiness of chatbots. There are a slew of best practices listed on the internet, but what does “best practice” even mean?

Campell said there are number of areas that successful chatbot makers and implementers have to cover — from understanding the benefits of the bot, the intended experience, the personality of the bot, to even how to keep the interface simple but sophisticated. This can all be daunting as this trend is just evolving and is considered to be in a nascent stage.

Bennett agreed with much of that advice.

“Keep the focus of the chatbot narrow at first and make it clear to users what it can and cannot do,” said Bennett. “Be extremely thoughtful about the functionality the chatbot will provide out of the gate and make sure it aligns with what users expect in a chat app: short back-and-forth queries to obtain snippets of information or perform simple tasks.”

The ironic element is that a successful chatbot isn’t a digital human, but rather a tool to help consumers complete tasks quicker through the apps they’re already using. At the same time, the adoption rate of the technology is only slated to increase. That means that consumers may even help the success of the chatbots by getting more comfortable using them.

“In the next [few] years, brands that embrace chatbots and conversational commerce will enjoy a competitive advantage,” said Campbell. “For many brands, chatbots will be the new apps, with the potential to be more successful than brand apps, which are rarely downloaded and are largely only used by loyalty customers.”

But ultimately, it’s important to remember that chatbots are in more places than we think. They’re not just on Facebook, but rather a larger space, tending to connect to the Internet of Things.

“Chatbots are part of a larger ecosystem of conversational user interfaces, which includes in-home, voice-activated devices, mobile voice-activated apps and even simple SMS texting,” said Bennett. 

And voice may certainly hold a pertinent part of the experience. In fact, check out PYMNTS’ Karen Webster’s thoughts on the power of voice in the ecommerce space. Google, Amazon and Apple each bring their own technology and assets related to voice-activated commerce for consumers and the merchants they like to shop. Those are only the big guys, and we all know there are lots more little guys.

Regardless, it won’t all be smooth sailing. Expect to see a trail of failures along the way as chatbot builders figure out what works and what doesn’t.

That said, it’s as if the industry is waiting for a chatbot hero. 

“All it will take is one great chatbot experience to capture the world’s imagination and solidify chatbots as an effective digital marketing tool, much the same way Pokémon GO inspired the world about the potential of augmented reality,” said Bennett.