Automation is changing the way we all do business. In fact, it’s changing the way we do many things.

Case in point: In early 2018, Amazon opened a supermarket with no checkout lanes. Instead the company relied on electronic sensors to identify customers and products. As the BBC’s Chris Johnston reported, shoppers’ credit cards were simply billed whenever they left the store.

While not every business can rely on the Amazon supermarket model, most businesses have discovered that some amount of automation can streamline their work and save money.

Customers don’t mind automation, either. A Facebook Business study found that more than 2 billion messages are sent between people and businesses on Facebook each month. More than 50 percent of people prefer to shop with a business they can message (53 percent). Notably, 56 percent of people would rather message than call customer service. The appeal of automation and messaging from both business and customer perspectives suggests that the time is right for conversation bots. Conversation bots can help current customers and also help turn new visitors into customers.

laptop.jpg

Why Conversation Bots?

A conversation bot can exchange information with other programs and humans, using the conventions of a natural-language conversation to gather data understand questions, and solve problems.

The earliest conversation bots included interactive voice response systems for telephones, which allow users to speak, use touchpad tones, or both in order to navigate the system. The pursuit of IVR systems began in the 1930s, when Bell Labs first synthesized speech, according to Martin Marinov at CallerReady.

Early IVR systems were endlessly frustrating for users, since the inputs they recognized were limited to a handful of phrases, and their ability to recognize what users said was often poor. Today, “few technologies are more despised than interactive voice response,” says Forbes writer Jason Bloomberg. “Instead of repeatedly pressing zero, we can all now repeat ‘representative’ until we finally get a human on the line. Is this progress?”

An initial attempt to make automated systems more human, IVR ended up dehumanizing the process of communicating with businesses. While conversation bots can serve a similar function to IVR, they’re more versatile.

Today’s conversation bots can adapt to a wide range of customer questions or responses, and they allow visitors get to the purpose of their visit faster, whether it’s to obtain more information or to purchase an item.

Global brands can design conversational experiences that guide visitors to the point of the marketing funnel that resonates for them in the moment. And this is fantastic for brands that want differentiated customer experiences.

How Conversation Bots Improve Digital Marketing Funnels

Many business websites are designed to guide purchasers through a funnel. Landing pages, forms and other design and content decisions are strategically placed to influence behavior and drive sales. How does a conversation bot make a difference?

A well-trained conversation bot acts like a friend, colleague, or advisor. The conversation bot can tell the brand story, direct users to the pages they’re looking for, qualify leads, and provide customer support, says Tam Pham at Bot Academy. When a conversation bot adapts well to visitors’ inputs, it can fashion a custom experience for each visitor.

What the conversation bot should do depends on what stage of the marketing funnel it occupies. For instance, at the awareness stage, a conversation bot’s main role may be to educate users, acting like a personalized FAQ or guide to content that is relevant to the persons, Marcela De Vivo Bustillo notes at the Nimble blog.

As 82 percent of customers will view more than five pieces of your content before making a decision, a conversation bot’s guidance to the right content for the customer’s queries can be essential, according to Propeller CRM’s Emily Bauer.

When visitors have consumed some content and are considering their options, conversation bots stand out by emphasizing the value of their business’s particular solution. According to Pardot, 70 percent of buyers use Google two to three times during this stage of their journey. A conversation bot that has earned trust by providing relevant information in the first stage, however, can provide more tailored information about specifications, capabilities, and the how-to of implementation — placing control of this part of the journey in your hands rather than in Google’s algorithms.

In the decision stage, the strongest conversation bot for a particular company’s funnel will have the analytical capabilities necessary to build a solid profile of the user, You & Co.’s Karl Fischmann writes. That profile can then be used to offer case studies, testimonials, and other evidence that the company’s offerings are right for this customer.

When customers are ready to purchase a human often takes over. However, a conversation bot can introduce them and also preemptively address the most common customer concerns. They can also provide additional information about how to use the product or service, and gather feedback.

Best Practices for Matching Conversation Bots With Marketing Funnels

In one 2018 survey, 15 percent of US adults noted that they’d used a conversation bot to talk to a company in the previous 12 months — almost exactly the same percentage as people who own a smart speaker, notes digital marketer Jay Baer.

Yet as many as 78 percent have also said that just one bad experience with a conversation bot was enough to turn them off to the experience.

With so many people willing to abandon a shopping cart, putting a conversation bot in charge of guiding visitors through a marketing funnel isn’t as simple as adding a conversation bot to the website and hoping for the best. Like IVR, many early conversation bots were extremely limited in the queries they recognized and the responses they produced. They also required that information be presented in ways that don’t jive with how customers actually have conversations.

Hugh Durkin, senior product manager at Intercom, provides an outstanding example: “Imagine walking into Starbucks and ordering a ‘venti, half whole milk, one quarter 1 percent, one quarter non-fat, extra hot, split quad shots, no foam latte with whip, 2 packets of Splenda, 1 sugar in the raw, a touch of vanilla syrup and 3 short sprinkles of cinnamon’” — only by handing the teller a separate note for each request, rather than listing all of them at once.

The best conversation bots for marketing funnel evolution  will use AI and machine learning to parse the entire order the way a human would, all at once, rather than in pieces. heir scripts will be written to address all the various directions a customer might take from the information, says digital marketer Remington Begg. This may sound daunting. But simply reshaping our perspectives about how we interact with customers can help. Let go of what has always been.

And don’t lose sight of your goal: providing a better digital experience for customers. When done well, conversation bots can “be just plain fun to interact with,” says VentureBeat’s Cheryl Metzger. “When smartly developed, they have the potential to breathe new life into the customer experience.”

Allow humans to continue to play a role in your marketing and customer service. If the conversation bot can handle the interaction more efficiently than a human, let it do the work. Otherwise, direct visitors to a person with the skills and knowledge needed for the interaction recommends Clement Tussiot, Salesforce Service Cloud director of product management.

A well-designed conversation bot placed thoughtfully in the marketing funnel is more than just another tool for qualifying leads and closing the deal. Your conversation bot becomes a educator,  friend, and copilot, building trust for your brand while also helping you inspire website visitors to become customers.

Avery Potter