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4 July 2016

Should marketers embrace the chatterbot revolution (Part 1)?

A few weeks ago, Facebook announced that it is opening up its Messenger platform to chatterbots. At its annual developer conference, the social media giant unveiled a way for bot developers to build bot code into the company’s Messenger communications platform. In this article, we will discuss the challenges and opportunities created by the integration of bots into messaging apps and its implication for marketers. Bots could become a game changer for those who grab the opportunity to implement them, and master the technological and organizational implications of integrating chatterbots into their communication channels mix.


What are chatterbots all about?

First, let's start with what a chatterbot is. A chatterbot (or chatbot) is a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation that should give one the feeling of chatting back and forth with human users. It usually does this by combining artificial intelligence with vast databases and tons of computing power.

Bots are not new, and they have been around for years now (the first bot on Twitter started in 2006), and are used in many industries. Interactions between consumers and businesses are already "robotic", with Interactive Voice Response Applications, for example, but what is new to marketers is that it now combines two new elements: artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile messaging apps such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Slack, just to name a few, which are now booming. These chatterbots, Facebook says, are meant to cut down on people’s app overload. Instead of scrolling through dozens of different apps, imagine if you had just a handful of bots doing all that work for you.

The combination of Artificial Intelligence and Messaging Apps will make it easier for businesses and consumers to communicate with each other, thanks to better interactions with a more "human" type of conversation, combining text, images, hyperlinks and voice. However, this new technology will represent some challenges for the marketers and businesses willing to integrate chatterbots into their processes.

With advances in machine learning, including deep neural networks, which can be trained from massive data sets to recognize the content of an image or to understand spoken words, as well as probabilistic models, computers can now instantly translate spoken and written conversation, recognize and accurately caption photos, identify faces and become your family personal assistant (look at Echo and Alexa from Amazon). Furthermore, another example comes from a startup called Spring. Their technology allows you to text for shopping help on Messenger. But instead of a person helping you on the other side, it’s a bit of code providing you with information. However, they can still not approach the complex thinking that humans have and it is not entirely without risk for marketers.

There are plenty of examples where things did not go as expected. The Tay AI test by Microsoft is a great example of the technological risks underlying bots. Microsoft turned to, a chatterbot designed to converse with and mimic the speech patterns of millennials. But in less than a day, Microsoft was forced to take offline, as the bot started sending offensive messages. The "random darknet shopper bot", designed to spend bitcoins on the internet, ended up buying drugs on the online black market. Another example of a recent extreme technological failure was the police raid experienced by a Dutch programmer when his bot began issuing death threats on his twitter account.

Despite these scary examples, the technological evolution and the fierce competition between the technology behemoths will lead to faster improvements in AI.

The second element leading to a boost to chatbots is the messaging apps.  Messaging apps are the last ad-free territory on the net, and some players, like Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft, which do not own a leading mobile operating system, are investing heavily in them to compete against Google.

The rising development of Chatterbots within Messaging Apps is also a result of app fatigue – people have trouble finding and sometimes downloading new apps, and often end up rarely using them. The result is that the most popular apps are those used for conversations. Six of the top ten most used apps globally are messaging apps, and they could become the entry point to the internet, maybe even bypassing search engines.


How will they change the way customers interact with your company and brand, and increase efficiency?

Chatbots, if well designed, should help marketers differentiate themselves from the competition and eventually please CFOs and shareholders. How? By creating an enriched customer experience and reducing staffing needs at customer contact centers, chatterbots will increase customer value and reduce human resources costs, leading to increased margins and EBITDA.

They will allow them to build more genuine customer relationships by creating a new model for interaction that will be a one-to-one conversation between a business and a consumer/prospect, which could be like two pals chatting.

For a consumer to connect with a business will be simplified, as it would be embedded into the apps he already knows and uses regularly.

It should also facilitate re-engagement. As mobile app builders know all too well, getting people to open an app and give it another chance is very hard. By comparison, reengagement with a messaging app would be easier, because the most recent conversations are readily accessible.

Chat Bots also deliver improved customer experience with a constant level of high quality customer support and will enrich the customer experience with extra services (such as ordering and giving extra information on products or services sold) to targeted clients, based on the interactions they made with the bot.

As the whole idea is to become more personal and allow the chatterbot to act according to the type of person he is talking with, there is a need to integrate easier customer identification, with automatic verification of user personal information. The chatterbot will then be able to go further in the relation, by proposing offers linked to the age, the stage in the customer lifecycle or previous behavior and interaction a user had with the brand or the company. This leads to a more personalized conversation.

The knowledge that information about customers would be available to the chatterbot means that the whole conversation would not need to start over and over again. AI will make it possible to uncover connections or patterns that would take several minutes for a human to find out. Imagine you’re calling a call center: you’re asked your client number and your name… Then you have to explain your story or your problem to one person, then another and so on and so forth. The chatterbot would know all that, and the conversation will start about what is essential, YOU and your needs at that moment.

This closes our first article about chatterbots. Soon you will receive a deeper analysis on the added value chatbots could bring to companies, if well implemented and the burning question for all contact center managers and marketers: will they ever replace a human being?

To keep the conversation going and deepen your understanding of the chatbot revolution, we’ve already collected some useful links for you:

Burger King Bot

Tacobell Tacobot


Activision teases next Call of Duty game with interactive Facebook Bot:

Read more in part 2


Thierry Hubert (Freelance Marketing Consultant from The House of Marketing)

Kenneth De Maeyer (Senior Marketing Consultant from The House of Marketing)