Chatbots, Social Media, and The New Customer Service Frontier

Chatbots, Social Media, and The New Customer Service Frontier

Have you ever chatted with a seemingly-real customer service rep on Facebook? They’re usually incredibly knowledgeable and save you from spending hours of your life on hold for the simplest questions.

While these reps may have restored your faith in person-to-person customer service, don’t let their conversational tone fool you. Chances are you’re getting assistance from a robot, and a highly intelligent one at that.


Chatbots: a brief history

Originally coined the “Chatterbox” by computer scientist Michael L. Mauldin in 1994, these AI messengers take many names including: virtual humans, avatars, conversational agents, and chatbots. They’re designed to simulate humans and interact in conversation.

However, the power of these bots wouldn’t be possible without the invention of the Turing test. Alan Turing, portrayed in the oscar-winning film The Imitation Game, created the criterion of intelligence that tests a computer’s ability to impersonate a human in real-time conversation.

Inspired by Turing, MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum tested the criterion in 1966 with his creation of ELIZA — history’s first ever natural language processing program.

ELIZA’s programming was simple: It recognized cue phrases in the input, and sent out corresponding, pre-prepared responses. Her design was successful in passing the Turing test and is still the basis for chatbot designers today.


The AI customer service frontier

Nowadays, chatbots are in more places than you realize. From virtual assistants like Alexa, to messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, these super smart robots are constantly working to answer your every question. In digital marketing, chatbots have proved their significance as customer service specialists and lifted the burden of constant consumer questions.

In Facebook messenger, you can customize your own chatbot and assemble a list of input and output cue words. From there, you can program the bot to provide links to specific web pages, information regarding menus and events, and even access to purchasing within the message.

So, what does all this tech talk mean for you and the consumer? It’s simple. Your customers can get whatever basic answer they need without having to spend hours on the phone. The chatbots add a personal touch to the conversation, and leave the consumer feeling valued. As for the business benefits, no one has to attend to calls from agitated customers. It’s a win-win.


1-800-FLOWERS: a case study

Despite what the name suggests, 1-800-Flowers, the largest gifting retailer in the US, receives most of its sales from ecommerce. In fact, 88 percent of its 1.2 billion dollars in annual sales happens online. This is partially due to their top customer service rep and superstar bot Gwyn (gifts when you need them), created by IBM’s Watson program.

Coined as “your personal gift concierge,” Gwyn can process questions ranging from a vague, “I need to find a gift for my girlfriend,” to a more specific, “show me your best rose arrangements.” What’s even more impressive is her ability to learn and improve through each interaction and memorize an individual’s preferences. The input words of delivery zip codes, occasions, and delivery dates to Gwyn lead to successful customer transactions, all within the message.

Although Gwyn lives on, the business was also an early adapter for branded chatbots on Facebook, and a favorite of Mark Zuckerberg who while using it as a demo said, “It’s pretty ironic: To order from 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.”


Messenger ads and the chatbot future

As Facebook surpasses 2 billion users, businesses need to figure out how to stand out in a crowd of others just like them. Although Facebook ads seem effective, chances are your audience scrolls through a handful of ads just like yours every day.

So how can you stand out in such a saturated market? Cue Facebook Messenger ads: ads that can be sent directly to the consumer, via chatbot, which ensure your audience is reached. According to the numbers, they’re working too. About two billion messages are sent between businesses and consumers each month, and 53 percent of those consumers are more likely to shop with a business when they receive that direct message.

Obviously, talking with customers isn’t anything new. The way we’re doing it is. Gone are the days of businesses being unreachable. Today’s consumers want attention and answers, and they want them now – not after five hours on hold with a customer service rep.

Make your brand available around the clock by using chatbots, without having to take the time to actually be there. People will love the personal touch and your conversion rates will feel the love too.

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