Chatbots in the customer journey enhance e-commerce, providing personalized, omnichannel experiences to consumers, no matter where or when they shop.
For better or worse, chatbot technology is one of the most important tools in the belts of modern marketers.
With most human beings quarantined at home during the global pandemic, chatbots really hit their stride as tools for quickly, efficiently, and personally engaging customers en masse, while also handling their basic service and support needs.
80% of companies are now regularly using artificial intelligence (AI)-driven conversational marketing tools, according to the 2021 State of Conversational Marketing report from Drift and Heinz Marketing.
Of those that didn’t already have chatbots, nearly 75% say they want them, the study found.
Room for improvement: Chatbot technology today
Businesses across all industries use AI and chatbots. Top use cases include:
- Providing 24×7 customer support
- Lead generation
- Collecting customer feedback
- Tracking shipments
- Managing refunds
For their part, consumers have a love-hate relationship with chatbots. On one hand, studies show they prefer self-service for their initial interactions with brands. They also appreciate being able to get their rudimentary questions answered without tiresome waits on telephone support lines.
On the other hand, surveys show consumers become irritated when chatbots get stuck, don’t know what to do next, or aren’t smart enough to provide intelligent answers to basic questions about products.
While chatbot technology has advanced quite a bit lately, it’s likely to undergo even more dramatic changes in the next few years.
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More chatty… too human?
One of the key annoyances people have with chatbots is that they still speak to us like rookie salespeople reading from playbooks or robots trying too hard to sound human. That’s not going to last very long, however.
Major tech vendors like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and SAP are investing heavily in research and development of AI-powered natural language processing (NLP) capabilities that would enable chatbots to interact with people more fluidly.
In the future, nobody will have to wonder if they’re communicating with a human being or a bot because it won’t matter. The bots will be such great conversationalists that they’ll seem as human as the real thing.
That doesn’t mean everyone will be happy. AI ethicists worry AI and NLP technology may be advancing too rapidly toward becoming human – literally.
In fact, Google recently fired an engineer, Blake Lemoine, who worked for its Responsible AI organization, after he asserted the company’s unreleased LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications) technology had become sentient and self-aware.
The dismissal stirred ongoing debate over whether AI technology needs to be monitored to keep it from reaching levels of consciousness akin to Skynet in the Terminator film franchise.
Learn about the growing e-commerce trend of using smart speakers and virtual digital assistants like Amazon Alexa or Apple's Siri to make online purchases.
AI advancements, smarter chatbots
As AI technology continues to evolve, improved algorithms and expanded access and use of clean data will allow it to arrive at more precise insights and intelligent recommendations at a faster pace. Those capabilities would presumably then be delivered to consumers and workers through chatbots as seamlessly as Alexa or Siri currently provide daily weather forecasts and movie times.
By some accounts, the intelligence behind AI is advancing at a faster clip than the famed Moore’s Law, named after Intel’s Gordon Moore, who in 1965 essentially predicted the computer microprocessor power would double every two years.
Some scientists even believe “human-level machine intelligence” has a 50% chance of occurring within 45 years and a 10% chance within nine years.
For marketers, this suggests chatbots will eventually be able to drive far more personal and seemingly authentic engagements and interactions than might be possible today.
Qualifying customers in real-time, for instance, could become more doable. Engaging buyers 24/7 across the globe could be easier. And answering call center tickets via a digital concierge would be more efficient since the bot will be significantly smarter.
Mobile customer service is about helping the 48% of US consumers that browse the web from mobile devices at any given moment. It’s about text message SMS, Facebook Messenger, Instagram DMs, chatbots and more.
Adapting to the mobile consumer
While marketing chatbots continue to connect with a good many customers on their PCs and tablets, mobile technology will be where it’s at for AIs in the future. Improvements in smartphone processing power combined with an increasing flow of chatbot apps are likely to make this so.
At the same time, much of the world – and younger people as well – are more likely to shop and surf the web from smartphones than they are from desktop machines. As such, observers say chatbot apps will adapt to fit the smaller screens and form factors of mobile devices over time.
In some cases, they’ll work in tandem with other mobile apps, such as translation, face and gesture recognition, and video programs. In other cases, they’ll supplant redundant mobile tools and features.
The bottom line for marketers is that as valuable as AI-powered chatbots might be today, they will be even more so tomorrow. But with so much change afoot, it will be vital to constantly watch, assess, and adjust to implement the technologies customers expect and need.