Exploring the future of customer engagement with bots

Every business wants to improve the way they engage with customers. Here we explore how chatbots can provide significant advantages over traditional means of customer engagement.

We have extensively covered the customer support use case in other blog posts so will focus on other forms of engagement in this post. Beyond customer support, customer engagement can also include providing a service to a customer via the chat or interacting with them in some other way that gives them information about the business and it’s services and enhances the brand.

Providing services to a customer via a chatbot for business could be similar to what businesses might do via their app or website. The chatbot has the advantage over the app and website in that it can be used inside the chat application itself. It has the advantage over the app that it doesn’t need to be downloaded and the user doesn’t need to be authenticated.

From the business point of view, developing a chatbot is also materially cheaper than developing an app (especially if you use a bot framework).

Customer engagement via the chatbot could therefore cover any service that might be offered using an app. Other blog posts have compared the relative merits of apps versus chatbots so I won’t do that in detail here.

As an example, a retail store might offer customers the ability to manage and use loyalty points with the bot. They might allow certain payments to happen via the bot. They may allow the customer to purchase and share gift vouchers. They might allow customers to engage with the store by giving feedback and suggestions on various product items or services. They could also run competitions via the bot.

Another important aspect of customer engagement is subscriptions and other forms of push marketing.

Subscriptions over a chat platform have some unique considerations.

Chat platforms are not cluttered (yet) by unwanted messages in the same way that email and sms is and therefore customers will very quickly become irritated with unwanted messages in this platform. They can also easily block the bot in a way they can't do with emails and sms (which if fatal for the bot channel).

Some marketers might see the chat channel as an opportunity as there is less competition for the customer’s attention in this channel. Though this may be true, the brand could also be damaged disproportionately by “spamming” people in the chat channel.

It’s true that as bots become more popular the chat platforms may change the interface to accommodate messages from companies (including from bots) in a way that does not interfere with the personal messages that the users are exchanging. If that happens however it's easy to see that the bot subscriptions could become just as ineffective as the email variety.

The key therefore is to make sure that the subscription actually gives the customer real value and that they want to receive them.

Botpress has an open source bot called Boost which sends subscribers motivational messages on a daily basis. In this case the subscription is baked into the service and the user controls what they receive. This is very different to a marketing service that sends random messages every day that the user may or may not have an interest in.

Special offers is a generic category of message that customers may be happy to receive. Even in this case the user needs to be able to control the messages at a low level of granularity so that they only receive offers that are relevant.

There is a much more important point where bots are concerned however.

Messages from bots have a big advantage over traditional messages on email or sms. This is because bots can allow customers to act on the message immediately in the same channel.

For example, a customer might get a message that a certain product item is on sale for a limited amount of time and allow the customer to purchase that product via the bot, on the spot, in the chat. This removes a lot of friction for the customer in terms of being able to act on the message and therefore will result in higher conversions.

It is also a reason why customers might prefer ultimately to receive offers this way as the effort on their part to act on the offer is massively reduced. This will improve customer engagement.

There is also the interesting point of continuity. The same chatbot can engage with customers not only over many different chat platforms and web chats but also over other channels. A customer can start a conversation with the bot on one platform and continue the conversation on another platform. No doubt some interesting ideas for customer engagement will emerge from the continuity feature.

There are also many channels through which the bot can interact with the customer.

The chatbot may interact with the customer by voice over the phone or on Alexa, Google Home or Siri. No doubt chatbots will be available on augmented reality and virtual reality platforms at some point.

We have also seen a use case where chatbots engage with users directly in comments that they leave on Facebook.

A clear opportunity for customer engagement in the future will be the ability of customers to be able to seamlessly interact with bots on the website. For example, a customer may want additional information on a product that they are looking at on the website. The bot would be able to chat with the customer about the product at hand (and later on be able to inform them if there was ever a special offer on that product).

Another big advantage of bots is virality. The advantages that we have already mentioned, such as the ability for the customer to act on the messages immediately in the chat, can be further enhanced by the fact that bots can take advantage of the fact that they can be easily shared or used in groups on the messaging platforms.

This creates even more possibilities for customer engagement whereby the people can engage with the company's services in groups.

Another interesting area to consider regarding bots and customer engagement is the role of humans. Although bots have been sold as a replacement for certain jobs done by human agents, it might be the case that bots change the way humans engage with customers overall.

Bots can substitute for and potentially augment the services of human agents, this has been one of the primary use cases for bots. The human agent must be on standby to take over from the bot if the bot fails in its interaction with the customer. This feature of bots is called “human in the loop”.

What may ultimately happen is that human in the loop will be used for far more than just customer support. Humans will be on hand to offer assistance on more granular, specialized tasks that the bots are not able to handle (assuming this makes economic sense of course).

Humans could engage with customers in very specialized ways, for example giving very specialized help on products on a website, because the bots have freed them up from the bulk of the customer service work (answering simple, repetitive questions).

The friction involved in terms of a customer getting very specific help from a human would be massively reduced. Of course this level of service from the human could not be offered unless the bots were able to provide great service on the basic interactions.

As we explored in other blog posts, the humans can also engage with customers in other communication forms besides text and voice. They could for example send graphical elements, such as widgets that show features of the product visually in a way that the customer can interact with.

Hopefully the above thoughts give you some inspiration as to how chatbots can improve your ability to engage with customers.

Bots have the potential to revolutionize customer engagement particularly in their ability to allow customers to do things directly in the chat channel and to interact with the bot in groups. In addition, bots allow humans to be introduced into the conversation at exactly the right time, at the moment when the human engagement with customers with be of the highest value.