Chatbots are everywhere as a marketing and communications tool. But do consumers really like them? What are the alternatives?
Chatbots are mainstream as marketing communications tools. Almost every kind of organisation uses them to talk to us on the phone, via email, messaging and websites. An article in CIPR’s Influence magazine (Q3 2018) was generally favourable with one expert praising the convenience and “humanising” effects of chatbots. For sure, they give us an instant response. But they can only give the simplest answers to simple, standard queries. Most people agree that chatboxes don’t do complex problems nor anything that needs negotiation.
Advice on illnesses
I was surprised to learn that pharmaceutical companies are using chatbots to give advice on illnesses. I saw asthma as one example. It is not enough for the chatbot to say “I am not a doctor.” People’s health is too important to leave to pre-programmed answers.
Chatboxes send us endless emails and messages that we don’t really want. We get information overload – repeat updates on our online orders, repeat emails asking how satisfied we are with the service . . . There are 100,000 chatbots now on Facebook. They send 2 billion messages every month. Jonathan Taplin’s seminal, critique of Facebook, Google and Amazon: “Move Fast and Break Things” notes this as a disturbuing cultural phenomenon. Information overload is at a critical point.
Less not more
As marketers and communicators we think carefully about what our chatbots are for. If they are to enhance customer experience, then great. If they are giving too much information, reaching out too often for no purpose, let’s rein back. But most important, we need expert humans available too in real-time to deal with complex needs that customers always have.