Chatbots: A new dawn of integration for brands

The introduction of Facebook chatbots recently caused something of a media frenzy amongst the technology community.

Bots have existed for a while now in other forms - see messaging service Slack’s use of them to compile lunch orders and projects’ progress reports on demand - however, Facebook’s chatbot news focused around how this advance in Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to completely change the way in which customers communicate with businesses. It could, for example, allow customers to gain access to automated customer support, enable new e-commerce guidance, as well as provide content and interactive experiences.

Whilst this is a great business booster for Facebook, which could enable it to gain more support for its Messenger app and enable it to compete with similar businesses that run a bot service much the same (Kik, Line, and Telegram), the real opportunity is for the businesses that utilise this API. This is because brands will be able to integrate their own services and customise their offerings accordingly, creating personalised experiences for each user via the social channel.

The changing customer

It’s more than 30 years since the introduction of the first PC, over 20 years since the birth of the Web, and almost 10 years since the first iPhone was released, and now, consumers are more digitally savvy than ever.

Smartphone usage is essentially universal for adults in mature markets, (it’s estimated that there are almost 2 billion smartphone users in the world), enabling users to access cloud-based services anywhere in the world, at any time, via purpose built apps. What this has done to consumers’ expectations is to transform them and it’s these newfound expectations that are driving businesses to work towards real change and digital advancement.

Today, consumers are digital natives – they want to be able to shop from their phone whether they’re on the train or at a desk. It is second nature to place a food delivery order from the comfort of your sofa, and it’s expected that businesses can respond to your queries in minutes through a messenger service. These possibilities undeniably raise customer expectations and set the bar high for brands as customer experience becomes make or break in growing relationships (and revenue).

Businesses need to be questioning the experience that their customers have with their business today, and more importantly, consider what the experience should be tomorrow. If one thing is for sure, customers have become accustomed to automation – they want services at the touch of a button, with complete ease of use, and this is undoubtedly the direction that brands need to be looking in.

By integrating back-end systems with Facebook’s, there is the potential to add a more transactional element to the mix. For instance, if someone uses Messenger to ask William Hill for the odds on tonight’s big game, the chatbots could provide an answer and offer to place a bet within the app. Equally, if a person uses Messenger to ask Topshop if they have a certain pair of shoes in stock at a local store, the app would be able to say yes or no – and could offer the ability to reserve a pair of shoes for collection or order them for delivery.

Connecting the customer journey

With customer expectations rising, the fight between brands for consumer loyalty is heating up.

It’s vital that businesses understand that every platform used in the customer journey, although made of individual components, forms one sole brand experience for the customer. This journey spans from in-store, to mobile, online, email, sales and support. Conventional wisdom says that, in order to drive customer satisfaction and impact business results, each touchpoint a customer has with your organisation must be anticipated, relevant and effortless, every single time.

By starting to automate part of this process, Facebook is providing a platform for brands to service their customers’ needs in a far more advanced, and personalised, way.

It is fair to say that integrating back-end systems with Facebook’s chatbots API is a challenging prospect for many companies that have not used the social platform in this way before, however, the service its integration enables will be increasingly expected by consumers. This ability to deliver better, more personalised services, quicker, is what will give certain brands the edge against others.

Leading the charge together

Facebook’s chatbots offer a genuine opportunity to enhance the customer experience.

Trying to meet this customer experience challenge is no easy feat and it will inevitably lead to a wider conversation about digital transformation, because it’s the only way to deliver on it.

We strongly believe that a collaborative approach is necessary to these projects and in a recent report conducted with Forrester, we found that almost half of businesses (43 per cent) believe that competing departments wanting to ‘own’ digital is a barrier to effective transformation.

The research showed that siloed organisations, processes and systems intensify the operational challenge and prevent the delivery of end-to-end experiences that exceed customer experiences. You need to, therefore, find ways of bringing teams together to facilitate and integrate the experience that they’ll get on your website with Facebook’s chatbots.

By realising the opportunity that chatbots offer, brands have the chance to enhance their customer experience on Facebook. With a collaborative team effort, the benefits of integrating the customer journey certainly outweigh the initial hurdle of integrating with Facebook’s chatbots API.

Stephen Morgan, Co-Founder of digital transformation business, Squiz