It’s just a bit of friendly chat (bots)


Working for one of the UK’s top technology PR agencies, we’re surrounded by news about automation and artificial intelligence pretty much daily. In an on-demand world, it’s no wonder these types of trends are becoming ever-more prominent. I thought I’d explore something which combines these types of trends with my role as a Digital Consultant at Whiteoaks – chatbots.

There are essentially two types of chatbot – “virtual assistants” which use machine learning, such as Siri or Cortana, and bots that are more common in messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger operating using pre-programmed rules. Whichever form a chatbot takes, they are designed to make our lives easier. You can ask what the weather is doing in Timbuktu next Wednesday and within seconds you will know. You can complain about poor service at your local coffee shop via Facebook and just moments later, you will receive a well written message, starting a conversation which can help you and also support the store in getting to the bottom of the issue.

There’s no sign of chatbots disappearing. Recent research has revealed 63{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of people would consider messaging a bot to communicate with a business or brand and 48{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of millennials are prepared to receive recommendations or advice from one.

At Whiteoaks we received an exciting email earlier this week from our good friends at Sprout Social, one of the tools we use to optimise social media management. Building on Twitter’s new direct message capabilities, Sprout is rolling out a chatbot builder. It will allow us to create easy and simple messages aimed at supporting customers instead of those spam-like “thanks for following” messages you receive every time you follow someone who has signed up to a free service.

Chatbots in some cases are a bit of a taboo. There’s an argument they are taking jobs away from humans and when left to run free, can cause more damage to a brand than good. However, as perceptions change and chatbot technology becomes more intuitive, they are only set to be more helpful to both business and consumers, capturing useful customer information and contributing to more advanced marketing campaigns.

A key to ensuring success with chatbots is for us as humans to stay in control. We need to remain on top of consumer trends so we can feed that information into the bot, monitor the performance of them regularly, and ensure that bots are being more helpful and more efficient than we would be without them.

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