Bots & Brands Breakfast: We're Still in the Wild West

On May 24th, Loyal was so excited to eat bots for breakfast! Well, we had bagels - though it was just as fun. Similar to our last breakfast event on innovation, Loyal teamed up with collaborator CMYK Ventures to co-host Bots & Brands Breakfast at betaworks to learn about leveraging bots to improve customer experience, and ultimately, community.

With demos from, IBM Watson and Slack followed by a panel with JTW, Slack (again!), Vimeo and Spring, plus 40+ attendees hailing from companies as diverse as BuzzFeed, Google, BlackRock, Ogilvy and Kickstarter (at 8:30am on a rainy day, no less), it was definitely interesting... #botsandbrands even trended on twitter! 

The idea for this event came from Loyal's curiosity about new ways to build communities online. Community building is changing at a rapid pace. As more and more consumers, especially young consumers, shift from social media platforms to chat apps and the dark web, bots will dramatically change the way we build communities. For example, Adidas is already using WhatsApp to build hyper local communities abroad

While bots today are a direct one-to-one experience between a consumer and brand, bots may be the voice of brands in the future. And of course, fundamental to any community is a base line of customer experience. So, to start with bots for community means to start with customer experience. That's why we brought together these panelists: 

  • Jinal Shah, Global Digital Director of JWT to represent the voice brands
  • Amir Shevat, Director of Developer Relations at Slack to represent a bot platform
  • Suri Ratnatunga, Sr. Manager of Platform Support at Vimeo to represent the POV of customer support
  • Zach Miller, VP of Commerce at Spring to represent a company who recently build a bot on Facebook Messenger

From the basics to the profound, this is what we learned:

What is a Bot?

A bot is simply a software tool that runs an automated script for tasks that are simple and structurally repetitive. While bots decouple services from apps, it's unlikely that bots will entirely replace apps anytime soon.

What's much more interesting about bots is that they meet users and customers where they already are - in chat/messaging apps and on social media. This is core to what Loyal teaches our clients about community, too - deliverability matters. And for many brands, bots are a new acquisition channel that empower direct ownership over customer relationships via data capture (vs. traditional social media channels).

User Experience is Critical

A core reason why bots are taking off is that they are able to deliver service quickly - and delightfully. And, the better designed the bot conversation, the more effective it is likely to be. As Amir hilariously demonstrated (if only there was a video!) with volunteer Chris Peifer of Loyal client HopMarket, consumers will only share their credit card information and passwords in experiences that feel secure and comfortable. 


Bots Will Not Replace Humans - Or, Community Roles

Many community and support folks fear that bots will replace their jobs. Though, set your mind at ease.

As Suri advocated, history demonstrates that the relationship between technology and the labor market is generally beneficial. Sure, there may be some structural unemployment for lower-end support roles. Yet, the payoff for support teams could be tremendous. Think about all of the proactive and strategic work that your team could accomplish with all redundant tasks taken off your plate! Plus, at the end of the day, no bot can replace top-notch, white glove customer service. 

We're Still Early on Bots

It was clear from our discussion that we're still in the wild west days of "botland." Interestingly, as Jinal mentioned, brands are proactively asking their agencies for and are already building bots in-house. This is in sharp contract to brands' uptake on social media and content marketing, which still sometimes requires convincing. Perhaps this is because while the variables for bots are still largely unknown, their impact is clear - just consider WeChat's single day holiday sales in China vs. an entire year of e-commerce for Amazon.

Yet, it's still difficult to tell what the landscape will look like a few months out. And, as Zach noted, there is not much support in the current ecosystem. One thing is clear - there is definitely an opportunity for bot agencies. They're already popping up! 

It seems that this discussion just barely scratched the surface of the power of brands for customer experience - there was just so much to share! Stay tuned for events in this series; we definitely want to learn more. 

Interested in learning more about this topic? Start the conversation with Loyal here.