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Does the world really need more chatbots?

As self-confessed Chatbot fans we believe so  

There was a slight lifting of eyebrows when we all read Forrester’s recent prediction that, when thinking about their buying journeys, more than a third of B2B technology buyers will rate chatbots as a top-10 engagement channel. 

Given that in most cases the current chatbot experience leaves a little to be desired (Forrester themselves acknowledge “many of today’s implementations are ham-handed, yielding nothing more than a click pathway to a human seller”), we thought the idea was worth exploring a little deeper. So we put self-confessed chatbot fans, Mike Boogaard, MOI’s SVP, Growth and Greg Campbell, VP Marketing Ops on the case and interrogated them as to why Forrester seems so confident. Do we think B2B buyers really want more chatbots? 

Why bots are blighted 
Both Mike and Greg acknowledge that bots are currently blighted by a bad name – from being programmed to prioritise only the website visitors who show buying signals, to being only able to help with relatively straightforward queries, they all too frequently present users with an experience that’s at best disappointing, and frequently downright dreadful. 

Greg admits “There’s definitely scepticism about them. The classic poor experience is that you’re needing something at a particular point which the chatbot can’t give you. Or you have to jump through 40 hoops to get it.” 

So why, when we’ve come to expect slick, seamless, personalised experiences from our digital interactions, is this happening? 

Mike was rather less polite about the people responsible: “The chatbot at the moment is part of the typical tech solution buying problem, which is all-the-gear-no-idea. People buy this stuff without a clear plan for how they’ll use it.” Greg agrees: “It’s like a shiny new tool. Most are like ‘Oh, super, I just switch it on, knock in a few things and it’s up and running. Why would that not work?’” 

Cardinal rule: Buyers before Bots 
It seems that when marketers are introducing chatbots into their digital mix, they’re committing the age-old sin of forgetting about the customer. Nor are they looking at the wider picture – at the broader capabilities of chatbots and what they can bring to the business when used properly. For Mike, “setting out the objectives and the reasons why the chatbot exists at the beginning is vital, because that’s where you manage expectations.” Greg agrees: “A lot of businesses don’t start with the actual use case or the service blueprint then use the technology to architect that experience.” 

The key with a chatbot is to clearly define the use case. Is it for transactional purposes? Is it there to find answers to users’ questions? Is it to generate leads? You need to define why it’s being used, how it will be used, and to make that clear to users right up front. 

Finding straightforward answers to simple questions is where chatbots are currently performing well. Mike cites a recent experience with his bank, where he was looking for an IBAN number. Straight away, the fully automated virtual bot (i.e. with no human sitting behind it) told him where to find it. Did it fulfil expectations? Yes. Did it improve the experience he may have had, had he tried to call a helpline? Yes. Furthermore, as Mike points out, it would have reduced HSBC’s cost to support. 

It’s all about the bigger picture 
When used correctly, your chatbot should benefit both the user and the business. When looking at the business case for implementing a new customer facing technology, you take into account three things: the cost to build, the cost to acquire and the cost to serve, and it’s a balancing act. Your customer lifetime value has to be greater than the sum of your costs to build, acquire and serve. Does your customer really need – or want – to speak to a person? In some cases, the answer to that may be yes. If their issue is emotional or sensitive perhaps. But in most cases, if the bot and the purpose it’s designed to fulfil is well planned, architected, explained and executed, then there are huge advantages to both customer and business. 

And let’s not forget the potential of chatbots to provide your organisation with valuable customer insights. Marketers are all too aware of how much of the buyer journey is undertaken independently by potential customers researching and evaluating their options online without ever contacting an organisation directly. As Greg points out, “chatbots have the ability to gather an inordinate amount of information. Not only can you glean a lot of information based on what they’ve looked at on your website, but from a customer’s point of view, when you’ve visited a website and then go back to it again, ideally it knows who you are, and remembers what you’ve done there previously.” And chatbots can and should work seamlessly with your other technologies. “That’s where AI comes in,” says Mike. “The more you can predict what a customer wants, the better the experience will be.” 

For Mike, the importance of the customer experience can’t be stressed enough: “It always comes back to customer experience, followed by efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, I’d say CX sits at the very top of those 3 pillars.” 

The best fit for bots? 
In a lengthy and invariably complex B2B buyer journey, where questions and considerations aren’t always simple and straightforward, where does a chatbot best fit into the overall process, and how can the B2B buyer’s natural scepticism be overcome? 

Greg’s answer is comprehensive: “It all comes back to Mike’s last point – is it a good experience for the customer, planned and architected around good, user-centered design? I’m a B2B buyer and I would happily engage with a chatbot if it got me to the answer that I wanted in a quicker amount of time, with a low barrier to entry, and where I didn’t need to speak to someone!”  

He explains, “If you’re able to glean value – i.e. the information you need, relatively simply, quite early on, then it’s a very useful tool. From both a marketer’s and a customer’s perspective, it’s like a Venn diagram… If it’s used in the right place in the journey, it should meet both marketer and customer needs in the middle. In terms of the questions customers are asked and how they are asked, you should aim for a consultative approach rather than a transactional one.”  

Clearly Forrester’s confidence in their prediction is based on the views of those like Mike and Greg, since they write: “With practice, and as the technologies mature, chatbots and virtual assistants will leverage first- and third-party data along with AI and machine learning to offer more personalized, guided experiences.”  

So take a closer look at your chatbot strategy. Start with the customer and what you want to achieve, both for them and for the business. As Greg puts it, “plan it bottom up. Create the journey to get to the end point. You don’t create the journey to get to an end point where you’re not quite sure what it is yet – which is what a lot of businesses have done.” And never, ever forget about the customer experience. Mike’s final word?  “It’s about how can we make the journey better for them – not for us – for them. Do it that way round, make it conversational, and have fun with it. The benefits are huge.”

Mike Boogaard, SVP Growth, MOI  
Greg Campbell , VP Marketing Ops, MOI  

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