Attack of the (Not So) Killer Robots

Article by Katie Foster
7 minutes 16 seconds read

Let’s face it. Sometimes, talking to people sucks. Picking up the phone can seem like the biggest obstacle in the world. We stomp our feet and drag our heels as we make our way towards a sales call or a phone date with a customer success rep. We’ve all been there. And that’s a big reason why you’ve been seeing the word “Bot” pop up in your feeds so often.

Ohhh. Right. Bots….like a Roomba? 

Not exactly. A bot is any piece of software that automates a task. So, yes, a Roomba would qualify, but so would a chatbot that answers your question on a retailer’s site or that random Twitter account that @replies to you with an offer for low-price diet pills. In fact, bots went from being marketers’ worst nightmares (think spam accounts, fraudulent ad views) to a willing performer of their most overwhelming and tedious duties.

When used for good, not evil, bots can help make our lives infinitely easier.

They are already taking on a myriad of tasks. For example, “ Allset ” lives on Facebook Messenger, and allows customers to order and pay for food from local restaurants before they even leave for their lunch break. When the customer arrives, they simply sit down, eat their ready-made meal, and leave–no transactional hassles involved.

Allset, ready to take my order

Others are simpler. “Botmoji,” is a Twitter-based bot. Tweet any emoji @botmoji, and it will reply with the emoji’s meaning.

Clearly bots have varied utility.  But what’s great is that you don’t need to download individual apps to take advantage of them–most are designed to function in existing apps that millions of users already frequent (think Slack, Facebook Messenger, etc.). That means no wasted memory on your phone, no time spent learning a new interface, no app-switching.

That sounds nice, but why would I build my own bot?

Think of your business model–how would you like to outsource some of your burdensome customer service or sales tasks? What internal processes would you like to automate? Could your onboarding experience be simplified? Yes. Pass it to a bot.

You know what annoys customers? 
Talking on the phone with a rep, just to answer a simple question; being forced to watch a demo; confusing onboarding processes…I’m sure you can think of dozens more. These too can be addressed by well-engineered bots. 

Are you considering developing an app or other digital experience? Consider this: consumers use messaging apps nearly 9X per day, 5X the average for all mobile apps.  And a month after users download a messaging app, the retention rate is 68% versus 38% for all apps (Mobile Marketing Daily, “The Next Brand Frontier: A.I., Chat And Mobile Apps Marketing”).

Don’t spend time and money creating an app, just to hope that users find and engage with it. Instead, create a brand experience in a space where they are already active. No worries about versioning, app store acceptance, or adjusting for screen sizes.

Can you be more specific?

Bots are already being used by the tourism industry, real estate companies, clothing and beauty retailers, and entertainment providers–some more successfully than others (ahem, Microsoft). Use cases will only expand as adoption increases. But what makes for a great experience? And when should you deploy one? Here’s what I think (in no particular order):

It saves you money. Just like any sales or MarTech investment, they need to prove their ROI (cut operating costs and/or increase revenue). Being novel and fun isn’t enough.

It’s less frustrating than human interaction. Studies prove again and again that consumers just don’t like talking on the phone, especially to sales reps. In a recent survey, however, 63.9% of consumers agreed with the statement: “Businesses should be available and contactable via messaging applications.” Give them what they ask for–but don’t sacrifice effectiveness. Check out this article on Venture Beat, “3 reasons messaging apps and chatbots will change the face of marketing”.

You’re able to feed your bot information. Equip it with all of the data it needs to do its job. Whether that includes customer records, search results, or real-time weather patterns (but, as always, be mindful of confidentiality and potential security breaches). Pay attention to your customers’ questions and update your bot’s conversation database whenever it encounters a question it doesn’t know or responds to a comment in a way that doesn’t make sense (read: feels inhuman). Even better if it can learn on its own. Onward and upward!

Trulia‘s rental-finding bot offers property suggestions based on your defined criteria. With a few simple clicks it also provides information on the home’s features, additional imagery, and even neighborhood demographics.

It’s accessible from common platforms. The beauty of a bot is that it reduces the friction of downloading an app or typing in a web address. Find out where your customers are already active and make it available to them there. Whether that is Facebook’s Messenger (Adweek’s reporting it has more than 900 million active users), Kik, or on your own website.‘s bot lets you browse and order arrangements without ever leaving your Messenger chat window

It’s mobile friendly. Well, duh.

It’s nice to talk to. Interacting with a bot shouldn’t feel like talking to a machine. The conversation should be natural and fun. Your job is to equip them with the language skills to do this. Monitor it at first and be ready for a human to intervene in the case of a bug or unanswerable question.

It’s non-disruptive. Don’t bombard people with unwanted communication. A bot should be available when users want and need it, and patiently waiting when they don’t.

It’s responsive. Even if it doesn’t have the info to answer a question, it should immediately acknowledge that it has received it. No one likes being ignored. Being ignored by a machine is even harsher.

Although I managed to confuse Beerbot (a bot that helps you select and locate beers), it still let me know it received my question and even suggested some alternative queries for me to ask

It’s useful. Make sure your bots are serving a function and aren’t there just to take up bandwidth. What do your customers need help with that your bot can provide? Don’t be limited in your definition of utility. A bot for entertainment can be just as compelling as one that completes a task.

The beauty of bot tech? The more advanced AI and Natural Language Processing become, the more seamlessly bots will assimilate into our environment (Facebook is turbo-charging this by open-sourcing their bot language training code). Human and software language divisions will blur. Who knows? One day they may even be able to detect sarcasm.

Curious about how you could benefit from a little bot love? Drop us a line and we’ll chat with you (we promise we’re not robots).

Beep boop bop

Editor’s note — feature image by Cate Kennedy