You’d be forgiven if you thought that chatbots got their name for all the chatter that surrounds the talking AI technology.
The recent Shop.org trade show was a hotbed of chatbots. The learning machines have been the talk of ecommerce for some time. The conversation naturally tends to run toward what chatbots can do to move an ecommerce customer closer to buying.
The North Face, for instance, launched a feature last year that uses IBM’s Watson to conduct ecommerce conversations with customers regarding the kind of outdoor gear they’re looking for. The system relies on typed questions and written answers. And it’s limited in scope.
Voice search, of course, has been a thing in ecommerce for several years. And chatbots in the form of digital assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home have literally become household names in the field of finding and ordering products.
Chatbots move beyond being AI sales associates
But it was clear when I walked the exhibit floor at Shop.org that chatbots are moving well beyond the role of getting ecommerce shoppers into the digital store or giving them some help finding what they want once they are there. It was on the exhibit floor, in fact, that I met Justine Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is the head of partnerships at Satisfi Labs, a New York-based company that builds AI-powered chatbots.
She talked with me about the role of chatbots in retail today. Her view goes well beyond the bot as personal shopper.
No doubt the role of chatbots in ecommerce will only grow. They represent something of a win-win. For retail, chatbots represent an opportunity to shave costs and preserve margins. (I’ll talk more about that in a future post.) For customers, they represent the opportunity to be heard — literally. And, it turns out, chatbots also provide consumers with a little high.
eMarketer recently interviewed Jeff Malmad, of Mindshare North America. Malmad, who goes by the title managing director and head of Life+, said getting a response from a chatbot causes a human’s dopamine receptors to fire. The exchanges lead consumers to spend more time on a site and creates deeper engagement, he said.
One important condition: The chatbot experience has to be built in such a way that it is the customer’s choice to engage with the bot. No one, it seems, likes a pushy sales associate — whether it’s human or machine.