What Humans Want Vs. The Chatbot Struggle

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Do you think that chatbots are the future?

You cannot not throw a marketing professional down a flight of stairs these days without the word “chatbots!” tumbling out of their mouths. There is no doubt that building automated tools for brands that reside inside messaging apps is a key near-to-mid-term strategy for connecting to consumers. We are already seeing services like Uber reside in popular messaging apps in other parts of the world. We’re also seeing a significant growth curve in both usage and adoption of messaging services. In short, people are messaging and sharing (chats, images, videos and links) in messaging apps – at scale – and this usage is taking over for time that was usually spent on email, surfing and other app usage. It’s not just about chatbots as an engine of commerce. Many believe that the current advantage with chatbots is being able to provide a quicker and fully-automated customer service offering. 

So, how’s that chatbot thing working out for you?

“There’s a disconnect between stores and shoppers over tech. Maya Mikhailov, a co-founder of GPShopper, works on commerce tools for such stores as Crate & Barrel, Lane Bryant Inc., and Foot Locker Inc. She explained that, while retailers fawn over the latest glitzy gadget, hoping it’ll catch on as the next big thing, people just want to buy stuff as quickly and easily as possible.”

This is the crux of the BloombergTechnology article, Consumers Don’t Want Amazon or Google to Help Them Shop, that was published the other day. So, while retailers, brands, agencies and the media talk about building better omnichannel experiences for customers, and while those conversations also lay into retailers for being so behind, when it comes to technology, it turns out that consumers want what they have always wanted from brands: Be brilliant. Be brief. Be gone. Simplicity, selection, value and trust. Chatbots seem like a perfect way for the brand experience to be augmented: fast, always-present, automated, etc… 

Not so fast.

According to recent reports, Facebook Chatbots have a 70% failure rate. So, while consumers are warming up to the idea of chatbots, they’re only getting what they want 30% of the time. You can imagine the kind of brand experience this creates (hint: not good). With that, we have the challenge of companies like Facebook and Microsoft and many others (including agencies like ours) talking up the value, merits and opportunities of chatbots. On the other hand, we have a technology that may not be ready for primetime and precarious consumers who are eager to try out a chatbot, but will be quick to dump it and thrash talk when it doesn’t work. Yes, the future of marketing will involve machine learning, artificial intelligence and chatbots. There is still a reality that must be faced: most of this tech is simply not ready from primetime. 

Maybe everybody is getting it wrong?

Could it be that the technology is primed and ready, but we’re experiencing “human error” with this technology? Could it be that we just don’t have the tech chops to wrassle this programming into a great customer experience? Whatever the excuses may be, the experience to date with chatbots seems to be less than impressive. Still, brands should not give up. We have seen data and reports like this before. It’s classic for any nascent technology. It looks like people are having a bad experience, so it’s painted with a dead-on-arrival headline (remember how Facebook was dying because the olds were starting to use it?). The same was said about the early days of websites, ecommerce sites, mobile adoption and on and on. Chatbots may be struggling with the technology and the adoption today, but they will become mainstream tomorrow. Consumers pushing back and saying that this technology is not, necessarily, the technology that they want is a non-starter argument. How many customers know what they really want when it comes to technology? Seriously. How many consumers knew they wanted a computer in the home? A laptop? A mobile device? The ability to check email on the go? The ability to type on a glass screen? Consumers stating – at this point – that they don’t have a need for chatbots should not be the reason for brands to sit on the sidelines. Ever.

Chatbots may be struggling today, but chatbots will play a huge roll in business soon enough. Stay tuned.