Using Chatbots to Improve the Customer Experience

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Whether or not chatbots really are the next frontier in digital marketing depends on who you talk to — but there’s little doubt that bots are everywhere at the moment. Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and countless other smaller firms have incorporated interactive bots into their messaging platforms, providing major brands and other business clients with more streamlined ways offer customer service online.

Although automated messaging has been around for years, today’s chatbots combine machine learning with artificial intelligence to create enhanced user experiences. With the number of online messages being sent to brands on the rise — Twitter says the total volume of tweets from customers to brand handles has increased 2.5 times in the past two years—chatbots are helping large organizations scale their support teams and respond to a greater number of queries without increasing employee costs. Chatbots are also giving brands a chance to flex their creative muscles, utilizing technology in innovative ways.

Here are five examples of how major brands are taking advantage of chatbots, with tips for smaller companies looking to adopt the same strategies.

1. Pizza Hut: Automating the online ordering process
This past summer, Pizza Hut announced that it would be using chatbots within Facebook Messenger and on Twitter to enable “social media ordering.” The pizza giant’s chatbot, which is based on technology from the enterprise conversation platform Conversable, accepts food delivery orders. It’s also been programmed to answer basic questions about orders and provide information about relevant deals and promotions. Pizza Hut’s bot takes location into account, allowing it to provide information about menu options available at local stores. Although Pizza Hut’s technology is unique in its sophistication, the simplified ordering experience that it provides is something that smaller restaurant chains should consider when putting together their own websites and online ordering forms.

2. Burberry: Sharing content around new products
Burberry started experimenting with Facebook Messenger during London Fashion Week this fall, when the iconic British fashion brand used chatbots to provide live customer service and ultimately sell more clothes from the runway. Burberry’s chatbot operated with a series of multiple choice questions and sent visitors through a digital “maze,” with content that was meant to be shared, like sketches of certain pieces from the latest collection. After completing this maze, customers could “unlock” a “Burberry show space” and order items directly from the new collection on the brand’s website. Burberry shows that brands can use chatbots to promote new lines or events, even without artificial intelligence.

3. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines: Streamlining ticketing information
KLM became Facebook Messenger’s first airline partner when the company launched its bot back in March. Travelers who opt-in can receive information through the Messenger app when they book their tickets through KLM’s website. KLM’s bot then sends itineraries, boarding passes, check-in confirmations, and delay notifications to the customer through the Messenger app. Customers can also ask to talk to a human agent, in cases where the bot’s AI functionality isn’t working quite right. For global brands like KLM, intelligent chatbots can handle a lot of the customer service issues that human agents currently manage, but at a much lower cost.

4. Macy’s: Giving instant feedback to in-store shoppers
Frequently on the cusp of the latest digital marketing trends, Macy’s started testing its own bot at selected stores earlier this year in an effort to better answer customer questions specific to individual store locations. Developed by IBM Watson, the Macy’s chatbot is available through its mobile companion app. Macy’s is also working with the location-based software provider Satisfi. Customers can ask questions about local inventory, the location of items in-store, and even dressing rooms, without having to wait for a live customer service agent’s help. (For example: “Where can I find Urban Decay makeup?”) Retailers of all sizes can make their websites and mobile apps more useful to consumers by adding store-specific information, like Macy’s has done.

5. Burger King: Accepting orders via Messenger
Back in May, reports surfaced that Burger King had begun working on its own chatbot for Facebook Messenger. Using the new bot—available only in certain locations—customers can order from a set menu and find the closest pickup location without having to leave the Facebook Messenger app. Burger King’s technology guides customers through the process of placing their orders and provides an estimate of how long until the food is ready. Customers can also pay for their orders through the app. While Burger King’s bot automates the ordering process, smaller businesses—particularly local retailers—can manually accept orders through Facebook Messenger and Twitter Direct Messages and have customers pick up their items at nearby store locations.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.