Chatbots are being hyped as the next big thing for businesses in 2018. They allow companies to communicate and interact with consumers online, instantaneously, 24hrs a day, in a cost-effective way. However, despite the apparent positives, many companies have had mixed responses to the technology that is still in its infant years. The question is can a shiny robot really replace a living breathing person?

Facebook launched their own version of a Chatbot on their platform in 2017, of which many brands quickly jumped on the band wagon. Despite the initial interest and uptake from businesses, stats show that 70% of its branded Chatbots failed within the first 6 months, with many brands subsequently pulling out.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, Just Eat have seen success with their Chatbots. Customers can type ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’ or ‘dinner’ or send an emoji to get the best results near them, with an aim to be a more conversational process than ordering via the app. The introduction of the Chatbot has helped drive new customers, encourage repeat orders (13.5% are repeat customers) and improved general awareness of Just Eat’s 27k restaurant portfolio. Data shows Chatbot is 266% more effective at converting to a sale than the average social ad.

HTC have also seen a level of success from using Chatbots, however instead of consumer facing, their bots are designed to support with training and B2B enquiries. In this instance, the Chatbots can service 1000s of queries at a time, both internally and to their retail partners, something that would be a challenge for a field team of 30.

It’s not just about answering consumer queries and complaints either. Smashbox have just announced their foray into the Chatbot world and have gone all out to ensure it’s a success. Their customers can explore products, find the nearest store and book beauty appointments. As well as asking the bot more specific questions such as ‘the perfect foundation match,’ or ‘best shade of lipstick to compliment eye colour’. And it’s a two-way process, the company can also extract data from the bot – if a particular product is being searched for more frequently or questions being asked, they can use this to push out content on other channels to meet the demands of the consumer.

This all sounds great, but before you go rushing off to sign up on Facebook, there a few things to consider. Just like the Tin Man on the Wizard of Oz – Chatbots don’t have a heart. Which means no matter how hard companies work to craft the responses and ensure that the tone is correct, on brand and as ‘human’ as possible, at the root of it all, these bots are incapable of showing empathy. Their responses are based on algorithms and best matches. Without human interaction, many companies are still afraid of a PR disaster. Target stores recently experienced first-hand the downfall of a reliance on technology. They created an algorithm that monitored the items you bought in store – if a certain number of select items were purchased, the system detected a pregnancy and sent out a congratulations card automatically. Sounds like a lovely personal touch – that is until said congratulations card landed in the hands of an unbeknownst father of a teenage girl. Safe to say it didn’t go down well.

Our two cents…

The jury is still out on Chatbots; whether this is the latest in a long line of fads or if this really is the future of customer service. Whilst there are obvious benefits to using a Chatbot, the technology is primitive and at the moment communication can only ever be pre-defined. This is great for fast, simple customer support, providing answers for exactly what the customer is searching for – but nothing more than that. Where Chatbot falters is problem solving, flexibility, creativity and empathy.

Despite a less-than-perfect start, it doesn’t appear to be putting off brands entirely and predictions are that the use of Chatbots by 2020 will increase by 1000%. As an additional nice-to-have, Chatbots do have a place in businesses and can be helpful. But, until the technology has vastly improved, we’re not convinced the robot takeover is nigh.

Stay tuned for more blogs. I’ll be back…