SXSW: Do you want to have an Instant Message conversation with a company’s BOT?

“I can’t wait to find out what my toothpaste brand company is up to!” said no one ever…

Let’s be honest, none of us have ever woken up longing to hear from the brands of the products we consume. Now that bands are using Bots does that mean we going to be flooded with mass marketing via Alexa? Just because brands CAN create a Bot to have an instant message conversation with us, does that mean we really want to have a pow-wow chat with a brand Bots ?

Brands are able to automate their communication via BOTS and that can seem a little scary.  At SXSW, I delved deeper into how brands are using Bots and what this means for us.

What are BOTS ?

Think of bots as automation software. Bots understand questions and automatically provide an answer or perform a transaction. For example, you could ask a banking Bot “what is my balance?” and the bank’s Bot will look up and reply with your balance. Bots are not new and but are now evolving to use voice assistants such as Siri, Cortana, and Alexa as well as Instant Messaging platforms.

Why and how are brands starting to use BOTS?

Bots allow a brand to scale very quickly. Instead of having hundreds of call center operators to answer simple questions, a brand could deploy a bot that will do the same job.

Chris McCann, CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com explains that their bot, Gwyn,  allows a customer to order a dozen red roses by simply saying “send a dozen red roses to my wife’s work”, the bot would authenticate the customer, understand where “wife work” and who is “wife” is and within minutes the transaction is complete.  The Bot also takes you through the purchasing system as if you were chatting with a customer service representative on the phone.

Bots and Brands: Gwyn the 1-800-flowers.com bot

As you answer the questions, the bot makes different recommendations, for example, an Anniversary occasion shows different results to a birthday.

Bots and Brands: Gwyn the 1-800-flowers.com bot

The Capital One bot, ENO,  allows the bank’s customers to access their account by simply talking to Alexa or by using Instant message system.

A customer could message “what’s my available credit?” and Eno would reply.

Bots and Brands: Capital One bot Eno

Bots can be fun too. GE Corporation is using AI in their Labracadabra Bot which helps kids perform their own scientific experiments at home. The Bot guides the kids through each step of the experiment. Sam Olstein, global director of innovation for GE Corporation say that “a good Bot does one thing really well”

Bots and Brands: Labracadabra Bot

Bots have their limitations

Bots are intelligent however, the voice modulation (sound) still needs to evolve to be more human like. Head of conversation design for Capital One, Stephanie Hay, puts it best “When Alexa says Hello, she sounds a little ‘judgy’, so we changed our Bot to say “hey there” which sounds much more friendly”. Bots also need to recognize and adapt to common terms and shortcuts that people are used to using such as “y” means “yes” and if the brand doesn’t incorporate those it can leave a very frustrating user experience.

Privacy is also a big challenge.

McCann explains that “Customers will never give up their security, but sharing your information gives you personalization” therefore those who use the Bot are able to receive a very tailored gifting experience where suggestions are made based on individual taste “this goes back to the old days of a personal experience from your neighborhood flower shop”. With a Bot, you can do that on a massive scale to thousands of customers and each one has a personal experience.

When it comes to your banking, the Capital One Bot will only allow “low level” transaction to take place such as the facilities you can currently perform via SMS. The more sensitive transactions such as transferring of funds will require an additional level of security. People should not be forced to be in front of a computer screen for every transaction. “You need to live your life so interact when you want to from wherever you are in the way you are most comfortable with” says Stephanie.

The next step in Bots

It’s clearly still early days but companies need to on the forefront of technology. Just like customers have evolved from letters to telephone to fax to email, the next evolution is high automation. Currently, Instant Message (IM) is far more widely used than voice assistant and therefore learnings of how customers react is more readily available on the IM platforms. As voice assistance systems start to gain momentum, learnings will be made on those platforms too and the bots will need to adapt to the way those customers want to use the system. Learning how customers react and changing your business accordingly is critical.

So if you are starring inside your fridge feeling uninspired to cook, you should simply ask Alexa “what’s my balance?” and when she says its positive as the salary was just deposited then tell Alexa to make a reservation at your favorite Italian restaurant and ensure that a dozen red roses are delivered to your table!

Now those are Bots we can love.

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