In this opinion piece, M&C Saatchi’s head of technology- Anton Mills discusses chatbots and why Australian brands should be using them – especially leading into the silly season.
The festive season is upon us and for brands, its go-time. Their whole year to date has been a warm up to this season. I’ve purchased all of gifts and my flights are booked to visit my family for the holidays.
It’s the time of year where we travel, eat and spend more. In 2015 Commonwealth Bank found that the average spend over December 1st to January 4th for someone in New South Wales was $1,339 (1).
This was split across gifts, sales, food and drink, entertainment and travel. In New South Wales alone its a $7 billion dollar market. While the spend is increasing its getting harder and harder for brands to convince users to download their applications and use their web experiences.
Three years ago I had 30+ apps on my iPhone. As web technology has advanced, my app list has dwindled to just 14 apps as I now spend most of my time shopping directly through mobile web experiences. Why is this? In one word, ‘friction’.
The friction in this instance is the amount of steps for me to perform a task and the amount of potential for me to change my mind. As a user, the friction of going to the app store and installing an application is higher than the friction of visiting a website. For brands, the more we ask our customers to do, the more we fail at retaining their attention.
This year has seen a fascinating paradigm shift in the way that brands are interacting with their customers. The defining moment for me was shortly after purchasing my flights, when my new itinerary was sent to me directly through Facebook Messenger. I was even able to respond to the message from the service as I asked to switch my allocated seat to a window seat. I was rewarded with a “Sure” as the software switched my seat for me— precisely as requested.
This was huge. I didn’t have to call customer support, load an app or browse a website looking for the customer support section. The airline had interacted with me in a way that was near friction-less. Not only that but the entire experience felt very personal, as if typing with a friend. There was no new interface to learn, no barriers to entry. This was a technology that could service everyone and it’s called a chat-bot.
Currently the chat-bots that are in use are mostly within the customer service capacity but Paypal have announced their new integration within Facebook Messenger, with Visa and Mastercard following closely behind. This will open up the potential for chat-bots to provide an end-to-end service for brands, from purchase, distribution and customer care.
There is also a major shift in social platform usage. People are spending more time in social messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp than more traditional social platforms(2). Both of these platforms dominate in Australia, with around 1bn active users globally(3)(4). Microsoft will soon release their new social messaging platform with chat-bot support and even Twitter have announced their new foray in to the ‘Conversation as a Service’ space(5).
These factors combine to mark an exciting opportunity for Australian brands to engage customers. Instead of the usual ‘Let’s build an app’, what if I had a chat-bot interface to a flower shop where I can ask “Can you send a bouquet of flowers to Anna at 220, Somerville Street?”. The win as a customer is that the process is quick, frictionless and it has freed my time up for other things. Now that its not only provided a service but done it in a way that was exceedingly simple and valuable, I might be far more likely to say hello next time it messages me.
Here’s hoping that by next Christmas my new chat-bot friend will be the one to ask me if I’d like to make a similar trip again, and take care of all the small details for me.