Chatting About Your First Chatbot

Time is at a premium for everyone.  One software solution for that is meant to save consumers time is a very chatty one — one that also puts marketers in reach their audience, and enhances that audience’s brand experience.

Chatbots have taken center stage recently. AI-based opportunities in the latest consumer-facing devices have sparked developer interest.  Amazon has led the charge for IoT-influenced consumer goods – its latest device, Echo Show, expands the Alexa AI platform to include video requests, even from Google’s YouTube. Meanwhile, Facebook has been building on its promise to open the Messenger platform to chatbot developers.

Chatbots are popular because they provide an alternative way to engage customers, especially through mobile devices. Apps were part of that initial engagement trend on mobile, but developers and marketers alike are discovering that consumers often use an app a few times only to then abandon it.  That behavior narrows customer engagements to one-on-one experiences. Such encounters are difficult to scale into a more meaningful connection with customers.

Chatbots work by responding to user interactions on a platform.  An AI-powered chatbot trains itself from the responses to refine its responses to customer queries.  Chatbots can provide subject expertise, answer care and support questions, and curate information for sales and service.  Chatbots offer a way to maintain customer engagement long after the first access touchpoint, a feature missing in apps.  Plus they do so by personalization.  

What kinds of bot developer platforms are available? Like platforms for websites or apps, the range goes from template-easy to programmer level-specialty.  Creating chatbots entirely from a programming language is perfect for developing a decision tree based on engagement from a specific media channel.  Many developers are finding Node.js to be a worthy programming language to use. Some specific-purpose frameworks are emerging as well.  Superscript.js, for example, works to augment communication platforms.  The framework can be coded easily for usage on Slack and Twillio.

But less developer-dependent alternatives exist for those who want simplicity and lack coding skills.  Just as templates became useful in creating websites with minimal developer involvement, bot building services are available for chatbot creation with minimal developer skill.  Pandorabots, Chatfuel, and Botsify are among the services available, while some agencies like The Chatbot Factory can provide design assistance with how a chatbots  performs.

Another great tool is Amazon Lex, an integrated development environment which can be used to assemble conversational interfaces for chatbots.  Lex can build chatbots for a variety of platforms, with the easiest integrations reserved for Amazon Web Services, such as Amazon’s own email service SES.  

The dynamic synchronization of chatbots and emails is fertile soil for growing consumer engagement.  Email readers are just starting to become accustomed to automation benefits – receiving an email after abandoning a cart or downloading a white paper.  Email providers are noting how readily marketers are relying on such strategies – witness Mailchimp’s decision to offer its advanced automation features to the free versions of its service.  Chatbots can provide an added layer that blends direct mail with other media into a consistent experience for those readers, strengthening the brand experience as a result.

Planning chatbots for marketers involves the same trope suggested for deploying apps.  Marketers should consider the customer problem first, then the environment where that activity is occurring.   From there they should consider if the customer activity has the potential to be iterative – generating a series of questions, for example. 

The combination of these considerations creates a good opportunity to develop a bot that provide the customer a useful solution.  The consensus among marketers on what makes a good bot is still wide open, but most recognize that a good bot ultimately enhances the benefits that customers receive. The best bots work to provide those benefits in exchange for a customer’s precious time. 

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