Do Chatbots And Humans Work Better Together?

As the battle cries rage on in the war between man and machine, perhaps there is a way to find some peace.

Okay. Maybe that was a bit dramatic. But as we wrote about last week, the assertion that AI will make humans obsolete is a fallacy  — at least for now.

Admittedly, there are things AI can do (like processing billions of data points in seconds) that humans can’t. For marketers, machine learning can be a resource for real-time insights they didn’t have the bandwidth for before.

“Everyone is recognizing the need to streamline engagement, especially when you consider chatbots,” Leo Merle, VP, marketing, ZineOne, said. “It’s the ability to answer questions and solve consumer problems right in the moment. Retailers are looking to AI to solve that problem and serve up the right content.”

But it’s the human touch that brings data into context — something that current AI struggles with. And when it comes customer experience, adding the right context can be the difference between creating a real connection, or losing a customer.

Bringing brick and mortar online

Dave Gerhardt, VP, marketing, Drift, a conversational marketing platform, says bots should serve as a way to better connect consumers to customer service or sales reps.

“We live in this world where we all expect real-time, on-demand answers from each other and from people — but we rarely get that from a business,” Gerhardt said. “It’s all about getting you to a human to have a real conversation. A bot is almost like a virtual assistant that’s working with you on your website.”

Gerhardt compared the experience to how customers behave when they enter a brick-and-mortar location.

“If you walk into a brick and mortar store and say ‘hey, I’m looking for a pair of Nikes,’ and then nobody answered — you would leave,” he said. “So because customers have all the power today, you have to adopt what you’re doing as a marketer to serve them.”

Purna Virji, sr. manager, global engagement, Microsoft, agrees. During a session at Conductor’s C3 conference, Virji likened chatbots to online “white glove” service, with bots serving as a vessel for creating personalized shopping experiences with more targeted recommendations.

“You have to guide people to help their purchasing experiences,” Virji said.

At Shoptalk, Stefanos Loukakos, head of messenger business, Facebook, said the “best [customer] experiences are hybrid experiences,” where chatbots are used to filter out basic questions to better aid a human sales rep, who can maneuver more specific or complex inquiries.

Message threads are also tied to a specific customer, which Loukakos notes can help with tracking historical data, past conversations, and consumer interests, to aid with retargeting and building better relationships.

“This type of personalization doesn’t exist through any other platform,” he said.

The information collected through conversations — curated by a blend of human interaction and bots — can then be used to help train algorithms to help create more ‘human-like’ interactions from the beginning.

“In the future, as AI becomes more popular, we believe there will be more fully-automated AI,” Loukakos said.

Beyond real-time

Chatbots may have their place for handling in-the-moment conversations. But for longer sales cycles, other channels may have bots beat, Gerhardt says. If a B2B customer uses a bot to schedule a demo, for example, a sales rep may want to follow up with a personalized email or SMS.

“There’s still a need for conversations that don’t happen in real-time,” Gerhardt said. “So think of it as pairing messaging on your website and through email.”

Automated or not — in the end, it’s all about starting a real conversation.

“Companies are able to get more conversations going,” Gerhardt said. “That’s the most exciting thing for me as a marketer. It’s not about getting people to click on my email — it’s about having conversations with them because they’re the people interested in our business.”

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