Chatbots: Can they help your business?

by Kevin Squires
Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies (Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)
Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business
Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies
(Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)

Right now it seems that whatever journal or blog I read, chatbots are the big topic. Most people don’t realize that they aren’t exactly “new”; they have been around for a few years in one form or another, but they have now hit the consciousness of the consumer.

Getting major recognition from facebook and other companies who are implementing them in a very public way certainly does shine a very bright spotlight on them as well.

So, what are they? Simply put, they are a basic conversational AI (artificial intelligence) tool used to help users complete a task. Think of going to a website to buy a plant. A chatbot interface would speak with you to find out the details like temperature and climate, indoor or outdoor, shade or sunlight and then, when it has enough information, guide you to a selection of products that fit your requirements.

It isn’t hard to see the benefits to most businesses. Having said that, it isn’t what they are right now that is exciting, but what they possibly could be in the near future.

I’m talking about chatbots that don’t just guide you to a product or solution but actively upsell the consumer. “On-the-fly” segmentation, gained by a few skillfully selected questions, with advanced algorithms analyzing each answer to create a user profile that deepens as the session continues, ultimately results in a highly targeted offering that may be quite different than what the consumer thought they wanted when they started. Pretty cool, right?

Now, add a way to store the consumer information with their profile and you have means to send offerings that hit the sweet spot almost every time. Moreover, as the consumer interacts with your chatbot in subsequent sessions, the profile can be fine-tuned; sort of like a modern day Closed-Loop Marketing system that is completely self-contained. The possibilities seem endless as you consider linking the consumer data with your other knowledge repositories (e.g. purchase history, frequency, seasonality etc) to create that true “Must have this now” demand. Marketing gold.

Other than using chatbots for guiding a consumer to a purchase, there is a plethora of possibilities for using them to train consumers on a product or service, post sales support, scalability options, and more, customizing the experience for each consumer so they feel important and cared for. Again, marketing gold.

So although chatbots are starting to get their fifteen minutes of fame, it isn’t what they are right now (which isn’t that new or unique,) but what they will morph into as companies look at new and creative ways to interact with consumers and identify the immediate true need that results in a purchasing decision.

And chatbots can also identify and exploit the unique and elusive triggers that cause consumers to come back time and time again due to the perceived value you (and your chatbots) provide.

This column has focused more on the business aspects of chatbots but there are many other areas they are being used in today which are more commodity-based rather than commerce focused.

For example, there are chatbots which will help feed you the kind of news you find important, help you with planning what to bring on a holiday through a simple chat about what you aim to do and where you are going, and many other areas to help ease the daily grind of life on the internet. It’s a personal valet that is becoming much smarter and able to predict what we find important and relevant depending on an ever-changing set of circumstances.

So, stay tuned and hold on—chatbots are coming, and in a big way. You may not even recognize them at first, thinking it’s a real person or a process guiding you. Some will see this evolution as good and some will see it as the first significant step towards the inevitable man-versus-machine conflict predicted by many soothsayers.

In the words of the infamous HAL 9000: Would you like to play a game of chess?