Few technologies are getting as much hype as chatbots. Although bots are not ready for prime time, this technology is inevitable and will revolutionize e-commerce. Useful chatbots will arrive in mid-2017 and become a must-have tool for your business by the end of 2018.
Yikes! Should you panic??
Nah. You can prepare by using human-powered chat in your service today. Your sales and support will improve and you’ll be ahead of your competitors when the bots arrive.
Bots are still dumb – but that will change in the next year
Bot hype is ahead of reality
According to CB Insights, VC investment into chatbots is accelerating.
And like anything else … hype follows the money. For instance, consider X.ai – the second company from the left in the chart above. X.ai is a “personal assistant who schedules meetings for you”.
We’ve tried X.ai and found it to be as good as a human assistant. Just ask it to schedule a meeting between participants and it contacts everyone. Turns out … it works as good as a person because it is one.
X.ai hires people to schedule meetings and uses the conversations to train its algorithms.
But this change is inevitable
According to Gartner, Natural-Language Question Answering (i.e. chatbots for non-geeks) is coming faster than expected.
Just 15 months ago Gartner predicted chatbots were 5-10 years away.
Now they predict bots are only 2-5 years away from mainsteam adoption.
We expect chatbots to begin emerging to e-commerce in late 2017. By the end of 2018 you will need to make chatbots part of your business or sales will suffer.
The real revolution will be in your customer expectations
Your business will go from e-commerce to “conversational commerce”
Here’s an example. This morning I needed to change our scheduled bottle water delivery from Crystal Springs.
I had to (1) go to my computer, (2) visit their website, (3) try to remember my password, (4) throw a temper tantrum when I couldn’t remember it, (5) recover my password, (6) navigate their UI, (7) change my order, (8) review and confirm.
Painful? Annoying? Yeah, but much better than calling them and spending 30 minutes on hold.
Here’s how the same transaction over iMessage (my phone identifies me, so no password needed):
Me: I need more water.
Crystal Springs: Sure, I can help you. When you need it?
Me: As soon as possible
Crystal Springs: Great. How many bottles?
Crystal Springs: Ok. I’ll confirm and get back to you.
Crystal Springs: I have scheduled delivery of 2 bottles of water for tomorrow to 536 Park Place, Suite 789, New York. Is that ok?
Crystal Springs: Great. Anything else.
Me: Nope. Bye.
This is conversational commerce. I type (or speak) 10 words in my phone to get what I want while I’m making coffee.
You customers will expect Nordstrom service with Target prices
This is the real chat revolution – your customers’ expectations. Since human-driven support will be too slow and expensive chatbots are inevitable.
When faced with two comparable products I’m going to gravitate to the one which is easier to buy. This technology will change your entire sales funnel and relationship with customers. Your business will go from transactions to conversations.
Consider digital advertising on Facebook, for instance. Instead of interrupting a customer with an ad, imagine an advertising campaign that starts with a question.
I found some cheap tickets. Do you want to visit Los Angeles or London for Christmas?
I find Quickbooks overwhelming. Do you?
The possibilities are endless.
Steps you can take today
Fortunately you can begin preparing your e-commerce platform for chat and boost sales.
Embrace chat as sales opportunity – not just support
Start looking for opportunities to use (human-driven) chat in your service. Think of it as an opportunity to empathize, build trust, and upsell. Put your WhatsApp, WeChat, or SMS number on your product and support pages.
this is the user expectation that messages can be sent, even if the other side isn’t there to read them right now … the sender knows you’ll be there when you’re there. This behavior is fundamentally enabled by mobile — the product expectation is that a sent message will sit in the recipient’s pocket until they can and desire to answer it.
Get everyone involved
Chat doesn’t work when mandated from above. Leadership needs to review conversations, participate, train, and look for ways to increase engagement.
Test multiple tools to look for engagement
You have practically limitless options. For simple transactions with mobile consumers you can just use SMS/iMessage/WhatsApp. If you have a strong social media presence augment it with Facebook Messenger or Twitter DM. For more complex products integrate conversational tools like Intercom or Olark (we use Intercom to respond to our current customers inside our app). For B2B customers consider creating a customer Slack team and creating private channels.
Retain your customer conversations
Just like any team member, chatbots will need training. By retaining customer conversations you’ll have a corpus of training data. Better still, associate the conversation with product data, landing pages, customer ids and events.
By the way, I meant to ask you something…
Managing your digital ads on both Google and Facebook really sucks, doesn’t it? Want to know a way to make it easier?
Photo credit: Luke Hayfield
Also published on Medium.