Messaging Bots Impact on the Contact Center

Executives at sophisticated companies like L'Oreal, Nike, Marriott, Whole Foods, Wingstop, AFLAC, and Tommy Hilfiger are well aware of the shortcomings of today's advertising and marketing technologies. Outbound media, especially email and text alerts, generate predictably paltry open-rates and even more anemic click-throughs. Targeting of tile ads or electronic coupons on websites are often mistimed or off-base.

There's no secret why companies are motivated to incorporate messaging-based bots into their marketing and customer support plans. Facebook Messenger alone brags 1.3 billion registered users and, for almost two years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and David Marcus, head of Messenger, have pursued the goal of making their service the preferred (perhaps default) communications platform between people and companies. This approach provides a platform for companies to establish dialogues, or conversations, directly with their customers, even though the bulk of them have opted to settle for basic, single-purpose bots that answer questions, schedule meetings, provide alerts or reminders, and other general marketing functions.

Opus Research refers to the emerging, messaging-based approach as conversational marketing. Like a virtual chat agent or intelligent assistant, a conversational messaging bot enables individual customers to describe their intents or objectives in their own words to the companies of their choice. A company with a conversational agent or bot appearing in the contact list of an individual's Facebook Messenger app achieves marketing's Holy Grail; that individual has, in effect, opted into an ongoing conversation with the company. This form of dialogue, through conversational interfaces, shows a very high form of trust.

Customer support specialists have gained confidence in automated handling of web communications by virtual agents. This coincides with the confidence that individuals are gaining as they use their own words to take control of so-called voice-first services like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. There is a carry-over effect, as customers carry out quiet conversations over Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Slack, Skype, and others, employing their own words, emojis, or predefined buttons.

Opus Research recently put the finishing touches on a research report titled "The Foundations of Conversational Marketing," with the objective of giving companies and marketing managers a common framework for understanding and assessing their options as they evaluate potential solution providers.

Solutions are offered by a broad spectrum of technology providers. But in arriving at our short list of 17 conversational marketing specialists, we winnowed out generalized bot development or authoring tools, the Martech giants, enterprise intelligent assistants, and B2B sales support platforms. There are leaders in each of these categories that deliver great results for their existing clients, but we believe there is a totally new category of candidates that companies should consider. Critical to the success of marketing programs that use bots, the technology cannot overwhelm or get in the way.

For companies, the tools needed to support the creation and maintenance of conversational agents must be designed for marketers and designers, not developers and coders. As non-technical, business unit employees, they need tools to create, analyze, tweak, and manage effective, long-term conversations without the need for long and expensive development cycles. In this report, Opus Research evaluates solutions by how well they integrate natural language processing to enable people to communicate in their own words and apply artificial intelligence to detect and define the most appropriate messages and actions to be taken and whether those solutions put that power in the hands of those closest to the customer and the experiences they will find most helpful.

That list includes (in alphabetical order): Assist,, Chatcast, Chatfuel, Chatkit, ChatSuite, Conversable,, Imperson, Massively,,,, Octane, and Snaps. These companies have distinguished themselves by offering scalable platforms that serve as tools for creating and maintaining ongoing, natural language conversations between companies and their customers, and doing so in ways that are hardened to be enterprise-grade. They rely on elements of artificial intelligence, especially machine learning, to help refine customer profiles to insure an accurate understanding of each individual. What's more, machine learning resources can be used to support testing of alternative wording and dialogue components to refine each conversation so it is pleasing to the end-user.

Our analysis takes into account the quality and costs of achieving success. Unlike customer support, where call diversion and cost savings are the prime objective, success for marketers is measured in sales lift and customer loyalty. Message bots are the ultimate opt-in opportunity, and the measurable results are ongoing conversations. The quality of a solution platform, therefore, is measured by technology providers' ability to integrate their platforms with existing systems and databases, spanning customer records in CRM systems to real-time access to inventory control systems and payment processing resources.

The 16 firms we analyzed show how quickly and elegantly AI is being infused into both customer care and marketing infrastructures. In the relatively near term, they should become one and the same.

Dan Miller is founder and lead analyst at Opus Research.

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