Conversation bots are changing the way companies and customers interact. The best bots can now converse almost like a real human being, making it easier than ever for the bot to build relationships between customers and companies while effectively managing the information they both need.

Two-thirds of shoppers are currently willing to work with a conversation bot for customer support, Larry Kim writes at the Observer. More than half of these shoppers are happy to complete their purchases with the help of a conversation bot rather than a human. And customers who do rely on a bot to help them buy something will spend, on average, $55 more than those who don’t.

That’s good news for sales and marketing teams — and the technology is ready to go. We can integrate conversation bots into our digital marketing campaigns for more effective results, now.

Why Are Bots So Effective?

In a word: conversation.

Use of messaging apps has surpassed use of social media networks for conversations, according to Robert Toth at Single Grain. Arkenea cofounder Rahul Varshneya estimates that 90 percent of all downloaded apps are only used once before they’re deleted — and that a significant majority of these are apps belong to companies. Customers download the app, perform one quick task, then delete the app.

The one exception is messaging apps. Ninety percent of a person’s time online is spent in messaging apps, Toth says. Conversation bots that work with messaging apps are able to meet users in their prefered digital environments, not force them into different conversation channels. By 2020, more than 80 percent of customer interactions won’t involve a human at all, estimates TechJini’s Robby Gupta.

“People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point,” says Peter Rojas of Betaworks. “Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.”

This is good news for marketers. Customers want to talk to you. And conversation bots give them a way to do it.

Bots can help marketing and sales teams keep the conversation rolling, as well. A well-designed conversation bot can gather preliminary information, like what a potential customer is looking for, then direct that customer to the human who can most efficiently help them find it.

“The bot isn’t about replacing a human,” says Tom Wentworth, CMO at RapidMiner, whose MarlaBot starts the conversation with visitors when they land on the company’s website. “The bot for us is about augmenting and taking a user down a journey so then we can jump in at the right moment.” And customers seem to appreciate MarlaBot: One of the top ways visitors end the conversation is with a “thank you,” says Wentworth.

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Bots and Smarter Targeting

“Chatbots can do a whole lot more than talk to people,” says Reuven Shechter at Leverage Marketing. “They can analyze consumer data and optimize your sales and marketing strategies with those conclusions.” Conversation bots can intuit customers’ purchasing patterns, monitor and organize data, and even provide analysis to help sales and marketing teams strategize more effectively.

“Chatbots powered by AI are by far the best sales automation tool you can find,” says Mehfuz Hossain, CEO and co-founder of recime.io. They can gather information, qualify leads, and make it easier to ensure that customers get the information that fits them, eliminating obstructions between the customer and closing the deal.

For customers, conversation bots make it easier to have their personal needs addressed — making them more likely to follow through. For instance, Sephora gained an 11-percent boost in customers reserving makeover times once the company launched its Sephora Reservation Assistant, Rachel Wolfson reports at VentureBeat. The assistant effectively replaced five steps the customer would otherwise have had to take in order to make the reservation. Easier reservations = more customers.

Increasingly, customers prefer the ease that technology can provide, Anthony Smith writes at Forbes. Smith cites Amazon as one key example: Not only do customers no longer need to drive to a store or speak to a human clerk to get the items they need, but the more they use Amazon’s services the less they even need to search for those items. Amazon remembers their buying patterns and recommends what they need when they need it. Conversation bots can do similar work — and they can make the customer’s part of that work feel like a pleasant conversation rather than another chore.

Conversation bots also provide an easy way to survey customers in a manner that actually boosts customer satisfaction, says Mitul Tiwari at Marketing Technology Insights. A bot’s ability to present a survey as a conversation, rather than a form, makes customers happier to complete the survey — and can even make it feel as if they’re having a conversation with a friend rather than giving data to a corporation.

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Bots and PPC

Many marketing teams still think of pay-per-click (PPC) ads as a tool for outbound marketing. But when combined with the friendly conversation and the instant information retrieval of a conversation bot, PPC can become an outstanding tool for inbound marketing as well, says Elizabeth Burnam at New Breed.

“PPC is completely and utterly subjective to the user who may or may not click on your ad depending on the relationship you establish between them,” Martin Calvert writes at MyCustomer. Not only can a conversation bot start building that relationship from square one, but the bot can also help gather data, target ads, and let the customer know that your site is worth visiting because you have the information they’re looking for.

Once a visitor lands on your website, a conversation bot can help that visitor find the content your marketing teams spent years curating. Visitors don’t have to guess which of your myriad of blog posts, articles, ebooks, or white papers will answer their questions. The conversation bot’s AI can make educated guesses and learn from the results, says HubSpot CMO Kipp Bodnar.

The support that conversation bots provide doesn’t stop there. “It’s one thing to get your audience to click on a PPC ad,” Chris Giarratana writes at SEJ, “but getting them to convert once they land on your website is quite another challenge.”

Conversation bots are up to the challenge. They provide the personalized approach that customers want, combined with the efficiency and ease they increasingly expect.

What’s Next?

As conversation bots come into their own, what does their future look like? Lois Wentworth of The Drum Network offers one prediction: Conversation bots that integrate with other apps, allowing them not only to launch a visitor’s preferred tools, but to use them to add contacts to address books, putl appointments on calendars, and much more.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already making conversation bots feel more comfortable, conversational, and seamless to use. Their ability to learn helps them avoid conversational faux pas like repeating their previous response or getting stuck on “I didn’t understand that,” says Kumar Shridhar of BotSupply.

As bots learn more and become better at working with other software, the next step may be to offer customers a truly one-on-one conversational experience — and that moment may come sooner than you think.

Avery Potter