Will robots replace humans in communicating with customers on social media?
Automated communication on social media Using apps like Messenger or WhatsApp to communicate with friends is a standard practice nowadays. Over the recent years, the trend has made its way also to B2C communication, changing consumers’ expectations when it comes to their interaction with brands. Automated communication on social media may help businesses adapt to … Continued
Automated communication on social media
Using apps like Messenger or WhatsApp to communicate with friends is a standard practice nowadays. Over the recent years, the trend has made its way also to B2C communication, changing consumers’ expectations when it comes to their interaction with brands. Automated communication on social media may help businesses adapt to the new reality.
The power of instant messaging technology
According to data from January 2021, the number of active social media users in Poland is almost 26 million, with the most frequently used social platforms being: YouTube, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp1. Two out of the top five platforms are messengers (chat apps). What’s more, messengers are the second most popular category of mobile apps – used by as many as 91% of Polish internet users, and in 2020, Messenger was the app with the largest monthly number of active users, outrunning Facebook and WhatsApp, which ranked second and third respectively.2
What does it all mean? The fact that social media are an inseparable part of our life is nothing surprising. A phenomenon worth taking note of here, however, is the growing importance and popularity of messaging services. The trend has gained momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, Facebook reported that in the countries hit hardest by the virus, total messaging increased more than 50% over one month, and the amount of time spent on voice or video calls grew almost two times.3 The phenomenon could be seen in Poland too – in July 2020, 38% of the Polish claimed that due to the pandemic, they spent more time using messengers, and 15% of them expected the change to be permanent and lasting.4
Global use of mobile apps by category z aplikacji mobilnych na świecie według kategorii
Most-used social media platforms
Consumers’ expectations in terms of communication with brands
Yet, the popularity of apps like Messenger or WhatsApp is not limited just to keeping in touch with friends and family. These apps are becoming the channel of choice to communicate with brands. According to Facebook’s data, as many as 64% of its users choose a chat app over a phone to contact a brand.5
Why is that? Consumers’ expectations evolve with their lifestyles. In a world increasingly dominated by personalized services, being online 24/7, and rush, users expect brands to keep up with them and respond to their needs more and more. When it comes to customer service, they expect flexibility and convenience. Customers expect brands to be also responsive. The ability to respond or solve issues quickly are named the main elements of high-quality customer service in online shopping.6
Criteria of high-quality customer service of an online store
Messengers and automation as a response to customers’ expectations
A medium that addresses these expectations really well is instant messengers, which makes them increasingly popular in the B2C segment. What makes them so successful in customer service is the feature of automation in the form of chatbots. The most popular chatbots are those utilizing the Messenger app. What does a bot bring to the table for a brand? Competitive advantage!
Instant messengers, since they’re always at hand, offer their users a very convenient way to communicate. Also, it’s a very natural form – or channel – of communication, which shortens the distance between the consumer and the brand. Unlike in the case of email communication, users chatting via an instant messenger are more at ease and use a more casual language. This makes conversations with brands more like a casual chat with an acquaintance, which contributes to building a friendlier brand image and a stronger brand loyalty.
The automation of communication in this channel additionally offers the expected flexibility. Not only can users send inquiries at any time and place, but they can also receive the answer at any moment. Direct interaction with a human being – via email, telephone or a non-automated messaging tool – depends on the working hours of the consultants ‘on the other end of the line’. With a chatbot, these constraints cease to exist. Of course, there will always be some more complex issues that a bot cannot address, but a well-written piece of software is able to handle the vast majority of inquiries, making the brand available to customers around the clock.
The icing on the cake is the response time. The wait time for a response when contacting a consultant depends, again, on the availability of the customer service staff, their working hours, and workload. Is there anyone who has never waited on a customer service/tech support line, listening to the characteristic ‘on hold tunes’ playing in the background for several minutes? Automation of communication eliminates this inconvenience – chatbots get back to the user with an answer immediately. What’s more, they are able to conduct many conversations at the same time, and thus enable mass handling of inquiries. This relieves customer service departments, which get the time to effectively address issues that require direct human intervention. When scaling a business, this is an extremely important advantage, which can even determine the company’s competitive edge.
The functionality of chatbots chatbotów
The potential of chatbots is vast and, basically, the only thing that limits it is our creativity. Their most common role is to answer the most frequently asked questions. However, the practical advantages of bots go much further. Chatbots can successfully support sales, informing customers about the current offering, special offers, or latest news. They can provide information about products, their availability in stores or about the purchasing process – for example, about costs and delivery options. Once a customer places an order, bots can track the shipment or make changes to the delivery without the need for the customer to contact the customer service line. In the case of service companies, bots can let their clients book a service – a hair salon appointment or a table at a restaurant – via a messenger.
Moving on to more advanced features, chatbots acting as shopping assistants help customers find a product matching certain criteria or offer advice in choosing a product for a gift. They thus take the direct interaction with a shopping assistant, which we know from brick-and-mortar stores, to the online world. Going a step further, chatbots can take the form of a virtual fitting room where the customer can see, for example, the color of a lipstick on her lips.
An example of such a multifunctional bot, which also acts as a shopping advisor, is the chatbot featured in the Messenger of the CCC brand. Some of its features include: answering the most frequently asked questions, checking the status of an order, showing the nearest store, and helping the asker find products according to the defined criteria. After specifying the type of shoes we are looking for, the bot returns suggestions of products matching the inqiury. From there, the user can ask the bot to check the availability of the selected model in stores or go directly to the online store to place an order online. In addition, it is also possible to search for products using a photo – the user sends a photo of the shoes they like on Messenger and the bot searches for products similar to the shoes in the photo in its database.
The use of a chatbot can, of course, go beyond the purchasing process. It can be part of an image-building strategy and focus on building brand relationships and engaging customers by providing the users interacting with the chatbot with various types of entertainment in the form of competitions, quizzes, or games. Thus, automation of communication not only improves the process of interaction with the customer but actually significantly stimulates it, unlocking features unavailable when relying only on traditional human service.
The chatbot in CCC’s Messenger
Even a chatbot is not perfect
Of course, despite their numerous advantages, chatbots are not without flaws. After all, it is an automated tool configured by a human. Even the most advanced program will eventually encounter a situation that it will not be able to solve on its own, and there will be a need for human intervention. Therefore, we should bear in mind that the implementation of a bot cannot involve a complete elimination of the human factor in customer service.
A certain objection against the adoption of chatbots may also be the lack of naturalness manifested in the language bots use and demand from the user. Indeed, a bot is often not capable of having a spontaneous conversation, and sometimes the interaction with a bot is limited to the selection of predefined buttons. However, bots with an NLP (Natural Language Processing) engine, which lets them understand natural human language, have been developing successfully and are already in use. The technology behind these bots enables users to ask questions in a natural way and the bot is able to understand the intention and the topic of the question from the user’s inquiry.7
The quality of the bot is an aspect worth paying attention to as well. When we make a chatbot the main channel of communication, it becomes the first point of contact between the consumer and the brand – and this first impression may determine whether the user is going to use the services of the company using the bot. A badly working bot may make the customer uncertain about the quality of not only the customer service but also of the delivered products and, as a result, they may turn to the competition.
The automation of communication in social media through the use of chatbots is a huge opportunity for brands. It makes it possible to improve customer service and significantly expand its scope. It can support sales and image-building goals – and address users’ expectations on top of that. However, one should not forget about some limitations of automatons. In the light of the above, the key to success is still the synergy of human and robot capabilities.
1 Hootsuite / We Are Social, „Digital 2021: Poland”, styczeń 2021
4 GlobalWebIndex, „Coronavirus Research | July 2020 Multi-market research wave 5”
6 SMSAPI / Shoper, „Komunikacja sklepów internetowych Raport 2020”