The Internet has been buzzing ever since Facebook introduced bots for its Messenger Platform last week at its F8 developer conference. These bots marry artificial intelligence with text messaging programs to understand requests and provide answers or execute tasks via messenger. They can provide simple automated subscription content like weather and news updates to customized requests like shipping notifications all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.
Some companies have already boarded the bot train. Early adopters CNN, 1-800-Flowers, Fandango, and e-commerce platform Shopify announced they will already be incorporating the new feature.
Shopify plans to offer live customer service, automatic order confirmations, and shipping updates all within Messenger. The Fandango bot will help moviegoers locate movie info, trailers, show times, and theater locations as well as provide direct access to advance ticketing. CNN will send personalized news updates, and 1-800-Flowers.com will enable customers to order floral and food gifts.
Such chat bots will potentially revolutionize customer service and the way companies interact with their customers and business partners. They'll allow companies to become a part of the customer conversation wherever they are in a more personalized way than ever before. Rather than interrupt the conversation, bots will interact with customers for truly one-to-one mobile engagement.
Facebook says this is only the beginning of what bots can achieve for businesses and their customers. Julien Codorniou, Facebook's director of platform partnerships, told Wired, "We are 1 percent finished.... "One day, there will be companies built on Messenger, and we are at the beginning of that ecosystem."
While bots are set to revolutionize the customer experience for brands and offer a solution to app overload, they also signify a shift away from the human side of customer engagement.
On one hand, bots will eliminate the friction often associated with human service interactions--long waits, unresolved inquiries, and the need to escalate or transfer to find answers to even simple questions. On the other hand, will it move us too far to the automation side of service where we'll miss the human element? Yes, sometimes interacting with humans can be frustrating, but sometimes brands can't automate the humanity of human engagement.
Let's not forget the Zulily customer service representative who, this past winter, who offered a customer a refund for returning a coat but then told the woman not to send it back and instead donate it. This action not only helped to solidify that particular customer's loyalty to the brand, the news of it went viral and became positive word of mouth marketing for Zulily.
The bot experience is on pace to provide rich, tailored, easy, interactive experiences that consumers crave all through their preferred communications channel: messaging. But brands shouldn't get caught up in this bot frenzy and forget what really matters most in brand engagement: the customer. Bots will undoubtedly become essential engagement and communication tools in the not-so-distant future, however, companies must ensure that their customers still have the option to communicate with a person whenever they wish.