​Chatbots, messaging and refining the art of mobile commerce

Forrester analyst offers exclusive insight into the emerging mobile tech and the challenges marketers face optimising mobile customer engagement and messaging

Smartphone communication is fast shifting from voice to text and images, and consumers are adopting messaging at an unprecedented pace. But are B2C businesses keeping up?

Leading Forrester analyst, Julie Ask, spoke to CMO and revealed why marketers are still struggling to adopt best mobile commerce practice and leverage the likes of chatbots and instant messaging to engage with customers in more conversational ways.

A new report revealed by Forrester, Vendor Landscape: Mobile Messaging Platforms, found that while consumers send over 370 billion texts, Apple iMessages, Facebook and WhatsApp messages globally in a fortnight block, enterprises are still struggling with finding new and effective ways to engage customers using the channel.

Consumers are rapidly embracing messaging as an efficient channel to relay information and complete simple tasks, yet only 39 per cent of digital businesses use SMS, 37 per cent use push notifications and a scant 8 per cent use interactive push notifications, the report found.

According to Ask, the challenge businesses have with messaging is that unlike an app or mobile Web browser, where it’s about needs and motivations consumers have on the go, messaging is about really understanding the customer’s needs to communicate in an authentic and engaging way, delivering the right information they need exactly at the right time.

“You have to understand a lot about a consumer because you're not just throwing up a bunch of services and waiting for them come use them,” she explained. “With messaging, you're actually trying to anticipate the need and serve that up proactively.

“On top of that, if you start to think about things like WeChat or Facebook Messenger, then typically you need to employ a more natural language interface to these services. That's still very new for companies, especially when it comes to leveraging artificial intelligence or machine learning to achieve that.”

In order to drive the move to embrace messaging as a way to engage with customers, Ask said the push needs to come from the CMO.

“Typically, when we look at B2C commerce companies, retailers, hotels, airline and banks, it tends to be either the VP, SVP or digital chief digital officer that makes the decision to implement the right strategy,” she added. “But ultimately, these folks tend to speak to someone like the CMO that builds the experiences. And while the tech may go live under the CIO, the CMO tends to have ownership of the move because it’s all part of customer experience.”

Disrupting the stagnant state of mobile commerce

While mobile is certainly the catalyst for digital business transformation in enterprises where mobile commerce is present, companies feel they are neither moving especially fast nor slow when it comes to using mobile and digital, another new research piece from Forrester, State of Digital: A Mobile Commerce Perspective, found.

Ask agreed embracing mobile is a challenge every business has, especially established ones where there is less incentive to take big risks, leaving room for disruption to occur.

“I think it's always hard for business to operate day to day and do all the things we're used to doing while serving customers well all at the same time as well as trying to build and develop experiences for a future that is very different,” she said. “So there is little incentive to take big risks when managing big ships.”

“Often when you see any kind of an accelerant or disruptor in the business, it's usually somebody new who comes in from the outside and they're given the charter to build up this other kind of business that sometimes seems like it's a living project in parallel until it becomes a seamless part of the business. And these folks are very valuable – and they’re often cherry picked fairly often to go take new jobs.”

Getting your business chatbot ready

The idea of chatbots exploded when Facebook opened its Messenger platform to third-party developers last year. According to Forrester’s State of Chatbots report, chatbots have the potential to improve information distribution, customer care, commerce, and marketing over time by making them more natural.

Businesses like Domain have already unveiled a first property messenger bot, allowing consumers to find properties by interacting with Facebook Messenger. Even Disney introduced a chatbot to automate Muppet chats with fans via Facebook Messenger in 2016.

But we aren’t there yet, and Ask said there’s still a long way to go when it comes to using chatbots to engage with customers in an authentic way.

“There’s still more hype than there is reality,” she continued. “We did a survey which is yet to be released of the Fortune 500 companies in the US and only 4 per cent had a chatbot, and 13 per cent some kind of a presence on Facebook Messenger. So the adoption by mainstream companies is still quite limited and I think this is still a lot of new areas of research.”

What isn’t here yet is the quality of natural language and understanding, which Ask stressed is essential for authentic customer engagement via chatbots.

“There's natural language processing, which is a machine listening to a sentence that I say out loud and like making it into text like that's not hard to do,” she explained. “But what is hard to do is to understand intent in the language spoken. For instance, translating ‘I want a Pizza’, which can be said in a hundred different ways in chat, into ‘I want to order cheese pizza from Domino's pizza to be delivered ASAP’ is still a challenge. This is because for a machine to understand it, you need to be very specific and explicit.”

For businesses who want to start implementing chatbots, Ask suggested to start by keeping it simple and remember your audience expectations.

“If you're a news organisation and you're delivering like the top five stories of the day, sure you can do that it in a chat board and you can say here's the five stories we've selected for you,” she said. “Or if you're expecting a package to be delivered you can type in a 16 digit number and get the status of your package or order.

“Where we are right now is about simple retrieval of information, but it is something that will continue to improve incrementally over the next 20 years or so.”

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