The chatbots are coming: How consumer experience is about to change everything

You have made use of one at some point. To handle requests that would normally have required a phone call, a physical visit or a web search. From functional services like banking and health, to sunnier activities like quizzes and gaming, the chatbot has come to play an interesting role in the internet experience.

A chatbot is a computer program or an artificial intelligence that conducts conversations through audio or texts. A bot can understand complex requests, personalize responses and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform.

In April 2016, RED’s client Facebook notably started allowing businesses deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, content and interactive experiences through chatbots. United Bank for Africa (UBA) has Leo, Access Bank has Tamada. Custodian Investment introduced Max to the insurance world and Jumia’s answer is well the JumiaBot.

Still an emerging technology, the pivot to chatbots is powered by data. According to Business Insider, messaging apps have eclipsed social networks in monthly activities. This means that more people are using messenger apps than are using social networks. A Facebook Messenger bot for instance can converse with some of the 1.3 billion people who use Facebook Messenger- the third most used app in the world- every month. This reach is simply unbeatable.

It makes sense therefore that in order to build an online business – and everything is online these days – it is best to go where the people are interacting the most, the messenger apps. “Marketing messages shared by chatbots have an unbeatable open rate of 60–80% in the first 60–minutes alone; and a click-through rate of over 20%. No other marketing medium comes close,” writes John Orakwe, a chatbot designer and project manager at Future Software Resources.

The global chatbot market was valued at $17.17 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach USD 102.29 billion by 2025, according to US-based Mordor Intelligence. Gartner predicts that companies will power 85% of all customer service interactions with chatbots by the year 2020. 

It is easy to see why. Conversational interfaces can deliver convenience, personalization and decision support on the go.

“Leo is doing incredible things,” Facebook founder and CEO Marc Zuckerberg observed of the UBA chatbot at the tech giant’s F8 conference for developers. Launched in 2018, Leo has recorded over 1 million users across Africa with over 195 million transaction volume in its first year, prompting several imitators. UBA managing director Kennedy Uzoka noted at the Lagos unveiling of the chatbot, “The formulation is consistent with the bank’s customer-first philosophy, where we are doing things not the way we like, but focusing on what the customer wants, where they want it and in the exact platform they want it.” 

As more businesses pivot to remote work in a post-COVID-19 world, chatbots and other online assistants are bound to get even more influential. What will the future look like for brands and businesses? These are all the ways the chatbot will change everything.

1). Improved customer service

According to research by Gartner, customer service is the most important factor for the success of a business. Having a good customer service involves consumer satisfaction and this involves being on call at all times of the day. Customer support process can be improved with the help of chatbots. Bots can be programmed to give automated answers to repetitive questions immediately while requests that require escalation can be forwarded to a real person. This frees up human customer service representatives to save time and work on more important cases rather than time-consuming simple tasks. Chatbots also encourage speed and efficiency as organisations can handle more tasks at the same time reducing the waiting time.

This can allow businesses scale up their operations to newer markets without necessarily multiplying incoming requests.

2). Cost Savings

Deploying a functioning chatbot is a lot more sensible, not to mention cheaper than creating a cross platform app or hiring employees for each task. It is faster too and gets more work done in the long run. Chatbots are automated solutions, hence they allow organisations to handle many customers at once, and simultaneously. Instead of fearing that chatbots will put humans out of jobs, it is more sensible to look at them as services that complements human efforts.

Chatbots will in the long run help improve company bottom line as it saves on employee costs, gets more work done and avoids the little concern of human error when programmed properly. As UBA’s Leo launched on the Apple IOS platform, the bank’s managing director Kennedy Uzoka observed, “There are usually two approaches to doing this: it is either you go through man, or machine. Man will always have errors, but machines, in the past, of course, would have error, but with artificial intelligence (AI), the error rate is tending towards zero.”

Because customers can easily access chatbots within seconds and start interacting immediately, user acquisition is also associated with lower cost. Chatbots can be a great back up for employees for relatively basic and repetitive tasks with great speed, cost-effective, easy to implement, maintain and use. Attention must be paid though to the conversation capability or “personality” of your chatbot in order to increase or even retain brand perception and customers.

3). Ease of doing business

Chatbots provide assistance real-time similar to a sales person in a brick and mortar store. They offer an interactive communication experience that enables them ask questions to understand real problems. Along with voice and text, chatbots present customers with rich content in real time. These could come in the form of images, brochures, self-help tips, blog entries, or tutorial videos. Chatbots are also set up to respond to all kinds of queries along all aspects of the online experience. “It is still early days but personally, though, I’d invest in a chatbot service, as a business. Because it creates some layers of “personalisation” which is a key theme for doing business in the third revolution,” says Benjamin Dada, a journalist whose eponymous publication focuses on startups, founders and developers.

4). Proactive Customer Interaction

As a rule, businesses tend to favor the kind of consumer interaction that can best be described as passive. Responses are offered to customers only when businesses are contacted. This passive disposition may not be helpful in today’s world, especially with competitive businesses that have restless young people as primary consumers. Chatbots make for great conversation starters and can be available 24 hours a day. Consumers respond to this and tend to move towards businesses that make them feel like part of a family where even the slightest challenge can be taken care of at a moments notice. Like writers, chatbots can mirror the personality of their audience by writing in the style they speak. We recommend that businesses study the personality of their target audience deeply, learn about their life experiences, pop culture interests, and day-to-day habits so that the chatbot will be more likely to connect with customers.

The SimbiBot for example is an interactive learning assistant that helps students prepare for exams. It would be unfortunate for the bot to have the carriage and lingo of a 40-year old man.

5). Increased Customer Engagement

This is the age of information overload and so businesses must keep customers engaged with latest going ons. According to research published by Bain & Company, businesses that engage with their customers on social media have been able to increase customer spend by 20%. Social media can amplify, sure enough but chatbots can make these engagement more interactive. A sense of humour is recommended when building the programs. A conventional customer service interface usually provides more information than it receives from the users. However, chatbots, in contrast, give only a slice of information at any given moment. Because of this it is hard to complain that chatbots are boring or stuffed with irrelevant information. This keeps customers on the platform longer and the content flowing.

6). Monitoring consumer data

Businesses that make a habit of monitoring their bots will have a large dataset to study the latest trends and changes in consumer behaviour. Feedback generated through these seemingly simple questions can go a long way in helping businesses make improvements on your products thus improving consumer experience. For example websites can be optimized, traffic can be monitored, and pages that don’t connect well can be picked up on. Chatbots can be used to track purchasing patterns and consumer behaviours by monitoring user data. This could help provide businesses with evidence on what services or product may require a different direction in terms of marketing or advertising.

Businesses can track the commands and responses given by their users to the chatbot, predict the responses based on consumer language and direct the bot to suggest a different or a more convenient product or service to the users in addition to notifying sales and marketing departments for personalized services.

Looking ahead

Businesses that expect to standout are those that provide impeccable consumer experience. Digital communication is a huge part of this strategy. The smart chatbot improves communication with customers, speeds up daily operations and increases income. Chatbots are set up to resolve problems quickly and efficiently. They work non-stop and while relatively easy to set up, help companies save up on implementing human round-the-clock support. The future of work is creating constructive solutions and improving productivity. It wouldn’t be smart to be left out.

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