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What Do Consumers Really Think of Chatbots?

The cost of advertising continues to rise. Organic reach is dwindling on even the hottest channels. Brands know what works for them, but as reach becomes more costly, brands also know they need to find new ways to better engage and convert “default digital” consumers. 

This isn’t anything new to marketing – media channels have always forced marketers to evolve how they get a message across. In decades past, direct mail might have been your only option. By comparison, a 1-800 number or an early landing page could allow you to engage consumers in a more personalized way. Plenty of time has passed since then, and now another tool is here to transform the way brands and consumers interact: chatbots!

Chatbots have been around for a long time. In that time, they’ve rarely met consumer expectations or provided a positive experience. However, over the last few years, advances in conversational AI have transformed how they can be used. They can now offer dynamic experiences (and even be optimized for marketing) in ways previously thought impossible. This has also fundamentally changed what consumers think of chatbots. 

So, what is it exactly that they think? Well, consumers use them more every day. They’re more comfortable using them and making purchases through them. When the experience is done right, consumers actually love it – they find them quick, easy, fun, friendly, informative, and all that adds up to helping them buy more and being more satisfied with their purchase experience. 

How Chatbots Have Evolved

At first, the feedback for chatbots was so terrible because people simply couldn’t do all that much with them. Consumers didn’t feel understood, in most part because many chatbots simply didn’t have capabilities like Natural Language Understanding (NLU) that allowed them to parse and understand unstructured statements like “can I please have a Samosa now thank you”. Given how often we’re looking for instant gratification, it’s easy to understand why people might balk at these kind of interactions. 

A lot of early chatbots just weren’t equipped to provide all the kinds of help consumers needed. Source: TheNextWeb

Today, more chatbots are equipped with the right AI capabilities, but chatbot design has also improved. By making a chatbot’s area of expertise more specific, marketers can make it easier to understand intents and purpose-build chatbots for specific use cases. This could be anything from generating leads for financial services to selling beauty products online, which means most brands can start using chatbots right now to drive higher engagement, sales and satisfaction.

Consumers & Chatbots: Actions Speak Louder than Words

We’ve passed the phase where chatbots are an “emerging” technology – they’re now at the point where every brand and marketer can and should use them to acquire, sell to and retain customers. Data has already emerged in the market, but it’s a lagging indicator to the way consumers are already engaging with and buying from today’s most forward-thinking brands. 

One Mastercard survey found that 66% of US consumers use chatbots and voice assistants (smart speakers have plenty of applications for marketers as well), and 87% of consumers are aware these AI solutions are available to them. Another study from Worldpay found that 15% of US consumers have made a purchase through a chatbot, and 81% of those who’ve made a purchase say they’d do it again. A third study by Uberall found that 80% of consumers report positive experiences with chatbots

A Salesforce commissioned study found that 58% of customers say emerging technologies like chatbots and voice assistants are changing their expectations of companies. All of this is culminating into a massive marketing opportunity for any and all brands. According to Juniper Research, the number of retail chatbot interactions will nearly 10x by 2023. Total retail sales via chatbots will rise to $112 billion, more than 15 times today’s figure of $7.3 billion.

Clearly, consumers are acting on the opportunity to engage brands. As these experiences satisfy more consumers, they also become more expected. As they become more expected, ambitious marketers and brand leaders make them more common. All of this creates a feedback loop in which chatbots suddenly go from a new opportunity to an everyday part of your marketing mix, and an environment where consumers start to respond negatively to brands that don’t offer them. 

We understand that chatbots have evolved to a point that consumers like to use them. We understand that that this positive feeling is leading to a substantial market presence and rising expectations. However, what is it about chatbots that you should look to provide to consumers? What qualities are consumers looking for, and how do those qualities maximize the revenue you get and satisfaction you offer with a chatbot?

What Consumers Think of “Chatbots Done Right”

When done right, consumers find chatbots to be quick, easy, fun, friendly, helpful and informative experiences. Brands can take advantage of this through advertising, social channels, websites, eCommerce portals and even in-store in select scenarios – all increasing engagement and maximizing sales conversion. What’s more, these benefits to the customer provide guiding principles to allow brands to optimize every from of Conversational AI they deploy, whether through chatbots, voice or other interactive, personalized experiences. 

How do we know what qualities consumers love about effective chatbots? Well, our own solutions have generated greater than 30% sales lift and 90% positive customer satisfaction, so we looked at our user feedback on one particular chatbot to understand why. The feedback and comments below were collected following the end of a conversation directly within our bot, meaning it was both immediate and there was no human involved to influence or goad the user into a positive statement. 

Over a 4 month period, 855 positive comments were collected, each from a real user who had received a product recommendation, interacted with content or gotten some form of guidance and assistance from the bot. The biggest takeaway for us (and for any marketer or brand seeking to learn more about effective chatbots) was how consistently users cited three traits that made this particularly chatbot effective: it was informative, it was quick and it was easy. These are effectively the traits any marketing or eCommerce chatbot should seek to embody. 

It’s fairly simple as to why – whether it’s providing a product recommendation, delivering rich content, offering promotions, coupons, instructions, driving a consumer to a store or more, consumers want to get essential information from any experience they engage with. If they feel like a solution more quickly gets them information that allows them to achieve a goal (like making a purchase that’s right for them), they’re more likely to engage with it and feel satisfied with that interaction

In this case, providing a product recommendation to replace an otherwise complex set of choices made the chatbot a core feature of this eCommerce site. Many users engaged with the chatbot because it offered them a quicker way to make a decision and be confident in its outcome than the traditional eCommerce shopping experience. Making the process fun and friendly only helped the users feel more positive about the process overall (and showed that virtual advisors are a far better use of chatbots than AI assistants).

Chatbots are The New Way to Shop Online

Now, why would consumers feel this way? On average, they actually spend many more minutes with a chatbot than they do on a website, so why would they call it “quick and easy”?

The basics of this experience comes down to opportunity cost. We all only have 24 hours in a day, and even less time than that to shop (depending on how much shopping we do at work, of course). As consumers, if we know it’s going to take 20 or 30 minutes to comb through information and decide whether we really want to buy a product, how often are we going to make that commitment?

If that same experience can all be reduced, along with all our doubts, concerns and personal considerations, to a 5 minute chat that we can leave at any time, won’t we be more likely to follow through? This is what a good chatbot accomplishes. When consumers know that faster and more personalized experiences like this are available to them, you can only expect that they’ll buy more and be happier with their purchase as a result. 

The Real Opportunity for Brand Chatbots

Chatbots with the right design, AI and approach to the customer experience don’t just recommend products, they help know that the product is right for them on an individualized basis. It’s not so crazy to think solutions like chatbots could revolutionize your marketing mix – in fact, taking a real-time, conversational approach to marketing is something that’s been a long time coming

The right AI chatbot can take into account a variety criteria all at once. This ensures that consumers get the best-value choices for them, and the confidence that provides ultimately influences them to buy more. This isn’t the only reason why consumers love virtual product advisors and Conversational AI, but it’s definitely one of the biggest ones. It also shows that conversational experiences have the potential to transform every aspect of the marketing funnel, not just improve the sales or support experiences that brands already offer. 

When deployed across the entire customer experience, Conversational AI can provide new and powerful ways to maintain a connection with consumers. In the past you might’ve have ads, forms, phone numbers, websites, stores, sales reps, any number of initiatives to accomplish the same marketing goals. Today, you have access to technology that achieves the same goals in a better, more effective and more seamless way. If you’ve already considered a chatbot but weren’t sure how your customers would respond, why wait any longer? The time is now!

Still have questions?  We’re fired up to help as many brands as possible to raise the bar of user and customer experience in eCommerce.  If you need help implementing website engagement tools for your brand or want to talk further about any of the tactics in this article, we should talk ASAP!

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