A brief chat about chatbots

It wasn’t long ago that chatbots were regarded with suspicion by businesses concerned about the negative feedback and loss of custom the perceived frustrations would create.

How much time would customers waste talking to a bot, only to then have to chat to a ‘real’ person when AI didn’t have the answer? How would the bot convey the company’s image in the right light?

Consumers, meanwhile, wanted quick and easy access to information and saw human interaction as essential to their needs.

Now, chatbots are regarded by many ecommerce retailers as a key tool in creating a better customer experience, leading to improved communication and engagement, higher levels of customer satisfaction and even an increase in sales.

Here, Redbox takes a light-hearted look at the tech explosion though the eyes of our very own chatbot.

Hello, my name’s Redbot, the new automated chat service for Redbox. I’m here to help answer your questions today. How can I help?

Redbot? What kind of name is that?

Hello, thank-you for your question. It’s a mixture of Redbox and chatbot. It’s a great name.

Chatbot? I’ve heard about them. What exactly are they?

I’m a chatbot. I’m a piece of software that can conduct a conversation through auditory or textual means. Chatbots often rely on machine learning or AI to simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner and can be used by businesses to communicate with customers through a ‘chat’ interface. We allow two-way conversations through text message and can be integrated into websites, instant messenger services and other applications.

What? You’re not human? Why can’t I just talk to a real person?

No, I’m not human, but over time I can answer the majority of questions a customer might ask, both quickly and efficiently. Many businesses using chatbots also give customers the option to speak to a human if they prefer, or if they can’t help them with the query.

OK, so why chatbots? What’s the big deal?

More people are using messaging apps than ever before. In fact, you may not realise it, but today more people are using messaging apps than are using social media. A study commissioned by Facebook found 2.5 billion people using at least one of its apps; Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger. It also discovered that 1 billion people are using Messenger each month, with 56 per cent of those asked admitting they would rather message than call customer services about an issue.

Today’s tech-savvy customers interact with brands across a multitude of different platforms and devices, with mobile playing a huge part of this approach. It makes sense for online retailers to meet and interact with these customers in the places they are most comfortable and are spending the most time.

Meanwhile, businesses using chatbots have noted savings of up to 30 per cent in customer service costs through the prompt resolution of basic queries, according to chatbot magazine.  A recent survey by Oracle that included responses from chief marketing officers, chief strategy officers and senior marketers in the UK, France, Holland and South Africa, also found 80 per cent of companies either were already using, or were planning to use, a chatbot in the next year, while a study by Juniper Research forecasts that banks will be able to automate up to 90 per cent of their customer interaction using chatbots by 2022.

With messaging apps so popular and customer interaction and communication so important, it’s easy to see why chatbots are fast becoming one of the sales, marketing and customer service tools of the moment.

OK, that’s some impressive stats. But I still don’t understand why ecommerce businesses would benefit from using a bot. Don’t take offence Redbot, but give me a human to talk to any day of the week!

No offence taken. Have you ever had a query with a company and sat on the phone for ages trying to get through? Have you emailed a company with a question, but not got a reply? For internet retailers in particular, online presence and interaction is key to their survival and growth. What’s more, according to Facebook Business, 61 per cent of people asked why they send messages to businesses said it was the easiest and most convenient way of communicating with a business.

Customers today want quick and easy information and answers at their finger-tips. Whether they are looking for information about the cost of a product, whether a product is in stock, the opening times on a certain bank holiday, or something more complex or important, a chatbot can relay these answers straight away. Within seconds. Websites can sometimes be confusing to navigate, or just not have every piece of information easily accessible, whereas a chatbot can bridge these gaps. It can also replace the need for often lengthy calls sat on hold trying to book appointments. Beauty giant Sephora’s Facebook chatbot gives customers a quick and easy option to book a service in seconds, rather than go through calls, emails or the website, for instance.

It’s also not cost effective to have customer service operatives 24/7, but a chatbot can be available to answer a wide-range of questions and provide a selection of services, all day and night, all year round.

But what about negative feedback? And getting the voice and personality of the company across? How will I know if chatbots are right for my online business?

London children’s edutainment attraction KidZania began using a chatbot earlier this year and hasn’t looked back. Redbox spoke to Anya Mackessy, head of ecommerce, at KidZania. She said: “We have a call centre that is essentially our booking phone line but they also get a lot of general queries daily. While interacting with website content and social media, our customers want immediate solutions for sometimes complex scenarios and the experience we provide children is multi-layered. So, we started looking at chatbot options for Facebook and the website. The idea was to reduce some operational impact through customer queries and provide 24-hour AI powered customer support.

“We were told it would take about three months for the algorithms to be able to answer some of the questions that it has to learn verbatim and within about six months it would be able to answer about 80 per cent of the questions we fed answers to. Then it would recognise key words and answer other questions and even start selling key products. After the first month it could only answer about 20 per cent of the questions it was asked, but that’s grown quickly.

“It’s a learning machine and so we were very open with our customers at the beginning. We made sure the chatbot told customers it is learning. It said: ‘I’m here to answer your questions. But I’m currently training, so please bear with me. If I don’t know the answer to your question you will be given an opportunity to send a direct email to a member of the team.’

“One of the major worries was potential negative backlashrom people unhappy at not talking to a person straight away. We launched at the end of February, but we haven’t had a single negative comment about it so far.

“The most popular questions were about opening times or prices, so it gave us the chance to put more information on our website, or be more open about the pricing structure.

“But we found there were quite a few questions from children as well, so we have developed our chatbot to tell jokes, which we fed into the algorithm.

“It has also helped us sell other products. If a customer mentions bringing their child in for a birthday, the chatbot notices the word ‘birthday’ and asks them if they are aware that we also cater for birthday parties.

“It’s early days. It’s like a baby, learning baby steps. We have enjoyed what the chat bot has contributed so far.  It gives the customer a chance to see we are here for them, helps us engage with our visitors better and route the visitor through a pre-determined journey depending on what URL they are on.  It also helps to analyse the data to optimise the customer journey and determine what content drives sales and acquisition.”

Sounds fantastic! Any advice on how to approach chatbot use for my ecommerce business?

Think about the following:

Consider why and how will your chatbot fit into the overall customer experience.

What are you using a chatbot for? How is it going to make the customer experience better? If you’re a company that doesn’t have a lot of customer calls, is there any point in having a chatbot replace a human answering the phone? As discussed in a recent Adobe blog, “Chatbots should both reduce friction AND fit naturally into their experience. If your chatbot is clunky to use or feels disconnected from the rest of their journey, you’ll only annoy users.”

Work out which type of bot fits in best with your needs.

Do you want to use a basic button-based bot with different menus of questions and answers? These are the most commonly used bots, that keep it simple and stick to a script. Maybe you want your bot to use AI to pick up keywords in the customer’s query? Or maybe the even more advanced natural language processing chatbots, would better suit your needs? Do your research and plan accordingly. It may be better to start off simple and work your way up to the more advanced products after your business and customers have had some time using it.

Keep the questions flowing to work out how your bot will work for your ecommerce business and what it will look like.

When should the bot appear on the user journey? Will it be text only, or use avatars? Will you let customers know they are speaking to a machine? Will you involve humour? Will you use it for other things, besides answering customer questions? When you have worked out the ins and outs, spend time testing the user journey out so you are happy before launch.

Thanks for all you help Redbot. Before I go, can you tell me a joke?

I’m not able to tell jokes yet. But here is one told by the KidZania chatbot mentioned above. Q: “Why do seagulls fly over the sea? A: If they flew over the bay, they’d be bagels.