Human vs Bot: is the marketing world ready?

“Hi Miki”
“Good evening, Matthew. How was your day?”
“whatevs. I’m hungry.”
“Would you like to order something?”
“yes please. Something spicy. Dunno what.”
“Would you like tom yam soup?”
“Sounds great. txs”
“You are stressed.”
“how can you tell?”
“Would you like a beer?”
“yeah, I reckon!”
“Sorry, I don’t understand reckon.”
“Would you like a Thai beer and tom yam soup?”
“Perfect. Go ahead.”
“A drone delivery is on its way.”

You might think this is something from British sitcom Red Dwarf or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this is not the stuff of science fiction. Chatbots promise to revolutionise the way we interact with brands, through artificial intelligence.

A conversation like the one above will likely take place in the not too distant future between a hotel guest and an algorithm that will not only understand sentiment but also well-being, as measured through self-tracking technology (such as devices that monitor blood pressure and sleep quality). Combine that with IoT technology, and you could well have a drone dispatched with your soup order. Can’t handle the chopsticks provided, and need a fork instead? Perhaps you could just print one using the 3D printer provided in the room. This isn’t tomorrow’s technology – it’s available today.

While the possibilities seem endless, there will be implications:

  • Bots will replace humans as conversational agents. Their 24/7 availability and immediate attentiveness will render common situations like the frustrated airline passenger complaining through social a thing of the past. Social engagement – responding to a customer through a Facebook comment or tweet – will matter a lot less. Social media users are already gravitating away from public forums to messaging apps – bots will take this a step further. This will have consequences for customer service teams, from concierges to contact centres.
  • Bots will offer a personalised experience in a way that social media cannot. Social analytics can tell us how a brand is generally perceived by consumers and where their interests lie, but a bot will read all that and more – listening and responding to an individual’s needs, and building a relationship through learning. It might not be an authentic relationship as we understand it in human terms (though even that will change), but that won’t necessarily matter.
  • There will be implications beyond customer service. Bots will be able to seamlessly “speak” to other connected devices that will act quickly and intelligently upon a request. As such, other parts of a business will be impacted.

But there will be limitations too. Humans ultimately prefer to interact with other humans – supermarket customers, for instance, are known to prefer cashiers to self-checkouts. Bots are also unlikely to hold meaningful conversations with other bots – one of the joys of social is watching brands interact with each other, often through banter.

What do you think? Do you see AI having a role in your organisation, and do you see this co-existing with social?

The writer is Matt Brady, digital director of Sinclair Communications.

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