Considering a chatbot next year? Here’s how to get started

In 2016, we all become hooked on personal virtual assistants. These handy applications on our smartphones and tablets store our shopping lists, search the web for us and even manage our calendars. Experts are predicting that in 2017, chatbots will become the new big thing – especially in the world of digital marketing.

A chatbot is quite simple to understand. It is a program designed to simulate human conversation, but there is a very wide spectrum of how well a particular chatbot does this. Brands such as Microsoft and retailers like H&M and Amazon are already experimenting with chatbots as a way to improve the customer experience. It is predicted that chatbots and virtual assistants will soon become a part of our everyday lives, as soon as the technology is able to advance to the point where these robots become fluent at speaking ‘human’. Marketers hope to use them to offer a more personal experience, to anticipate what the user wants and to save them time getting it.

What makes a good chatbot?

If you’re considering making use of a chatbot at some point in the future, either on your website or as part of digital marketing or social campaigns, here are some crucial points to consider:

  • People don’t want to chat to a robot. Conversations with a chatbot should feel personal, and offer the same value or information that talking to a real person could. Early forms of chatbots which simply look up items from a website’s help section and recite it to a user on a webchat will no longer cut the mustard. Users may know they aren’t talking to a real person, but the conversation should feel as realistic and personal as possible.
  • Personalisation should feel natural and unobtrusive. Brands want to use chatbots to provide users with personal recommendations, such as news content tailored to their interests. A certain level of data collection is needed for this to happen, and it also needs to feel easy. Chatbots should not badger users with ads based on recent searches. Suggestions should be made naturally, in a way that suggests a clear benefit to the user.
  • The technology should be effortless. How many times have you felt excited about a new technology, only to have to jump through several hoops to get it to work properly? You may be impressed at the feat, but it won’t help your everyday life. Interaction with a chatbot should be effortless.
  • It should be secure. Research firm Gartner has revealed that nearly £1.62 billion of online sales was handled by mobile digital assistants this year. Bots need to offer a secure, controlled purchasing experience if they are to be trusted with huge numbers of transactions, from authentication mechanisms to encrypting data.

If chatbot technology was available to you right now, how would you use it? Or do you think that human interaction is the only way forward? Please feel free to share your thoughts.