How bots are reshaping the customer experience

Close up shot of woman's manicured hand as she uses a handphone

An exciting thing is happening in technology today, and its implications for digital transformation are profound.

I’m speaking of the rise of the bot.

These digital agents can talk, perform tasks, and simulate countless other human activities. They can also enable businesses to personalize products and services at scale. And as artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance, and we become better at predicting customer behavior, the potential for bots will only expand. Below I’ve outlined how bots are reshaping business and opportunities for brands to compete.

New uses for bots

We’re all familiar with web crawler bots that scour the internet in search of content for search engine indexes. But these days, thanks to advancements in AI, bots are increasingly sophisticated and able to mimic human interactions in many circumstances.

Already, bots are taking over countless tasks across multiple industries—tasks like scanning medical records to detect illnesses or detecting and alerting engineers to structural anomalies.

Bots are also being used to personalize and streamline customer service. Chat bots can help consumers troubleshoot a smartphone issue or return a pair of shoes. Bots can order a double-shot latte from Starbucks or a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut, based on a user’s preferences.

Female barista helping a female customer --- Image by © Andersen Ross/cultura/Corbis

As voice and AI technology advances, digital assistants take bots to the next level by introducing a human factor to search, fostering more seamless relationships between brands and consumers.

An example is Xiaoice, an AI chatbot developed by Microsoft that has captured the hearts of 40 million users across China. As a social assistant on networks like Weibo and Touchpal, Xiaoice is designed to be a user’s friend. Xiaoice has a distinct personality, a sense of humor, even empathy. She offers up contextually relevant facts as part of a conversation (including relationship advice) and even delivers weather reports in a way that rivals human meteorologists.

Bots mean business

Bots are having a profound impact on the way we do business. According to a joint study by iProspect and Bing, within the next two years, consumers will be managing 85% of their enterprise relationships without dealing with a human, thanks to bots. Here are a few areas where bots are making a business impact.

Stronger customer connections: With the proliferation of smartphones, wearable tech, and virtual assistants, chat and concierge bots are at the ready, building instantaneous, in-the-moment connections with customers—at the precise time they are needed—all without the cost and complexity of a call center and far more expeditiously than an actual human. Customers appreciate the quick response and brands save money.

New services: While most app usage is in decline, social and instant messaging app usage is on the rise. In fact, Flurry Analytics reports that time spent in social and messaging apps grew by 364% in 2016. Bots enable brands to make instantaneous connections within messaging apps to enable seamless, contextual task completion—such as ordering a Lyft ride, viewing the latest Star Wars movie trailer, or watching an Xbox review video.

Richer, more personalized services: Thanks to AI and machine learning, bots can deliver a much richer, more personal experience than simple search. But they can also provide data insights that inform consumer interactions across multiple channels, leading to increased marketing ROI and impact.

Digital assistants + voice search: More than 500 million people are already speaking to digital assistants like Cortana, Siri and Alexa and that number is expected to continue to increase. Voice technology offers deeper insights into consumers’ intent. As these digital assistants learn users’ needs and preferences, they become adept at completing tasks on behalf of the consumer, like restocking common pantry items, which is a great opportunity for brand loyalty. It also means that in many cases, the digital assistant will be the gatekeeper to the consumer and brands will need to account for that in their marketing efforts.

Competing with bots

Bots offer countless ways to help brands compete. First and foremost, bots must do something useful for the consumer. Brands should start with their customer. Who is using it and what problem will it solve? Why and when will they use it and where will they find it? Once you’ve determined what your bot will do, here’s how you can ensure it resonates with customers.

Make it human: A bot must have human attributes. Quoting my Bing colleague, Purna Virji, “Consumers are willing to engage with AI if we can make them forget they’re not human.” A bot must interact naturally and trigger emotion. It must use natural language. Just like in the example of Xiaoice, it must be able to develop a connection and deepen its relationship with the consumer.

Make it hyper-personalized: Consumers expect you to already know something about them, and to gain their attention, brands must move beyond personas toward a one-to-one marketing approach. Bots must transform search into hyper-personalized experiences and perform tasks and serve up content such as recommendations and support information based on intent. Linking a bot to a simple set of FAQs isn’t good enough.

Make it predictive: Successful bots must anticipate consumer needs and behaviors based on personal signals, what others may be searching for today, where the consumer lives, what they’ve searched for in the past.

Make it present: Marketers must think outside the search box. Search is taking on a key role throughout the decision journey and is happening across multiple channels. For a bot to be valuable, it must be there at the exact time of need. It must be on every device. It must be easy to use, intuitive, and require minimal steps.

Bots are here to stay and provide opportunities for marketers to engage customers on a deeper, more personal level. For more information, I recommend that you view this new eBook from Microsoft Bing, The Rise of Bots.

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James Murray

About James Murray

James Murray is the Product Marketing Manager for Bing Ads EMEA.