You know what sucks? Talking to people with no thoughts of their own. The conversation is predictable, and lacks the substance to make it interesting. No offense to these people, it’s just not my cup of tea.

I’d rather engage with someone that has something to say. Conversations are constituted on critical thinking, being able to understand context and questions, the ability to analyze, synthesize and add depth to a subject. Every marketer knows that before you can provide someone a solution, you have to understand how they, and their problem, are unique. That’s where chatbots will always fail.

I’m sure you, the experienced digital marketing professional you are, have come across this situation around the web. You’re scrolling down the website of a business, competitor, service etc. When you reach the bottom a pop-up appears in the bottom right hand corner with a friendly face and a question.

“Hi! I’m Stephen from ChatTeach. Let me know if you have any questions!”

“Whoa,” you think, “what awesome customer service.” and proceed to ask Stephen some questions about what you’re looking for.

But then, you, the savvy individual you are, begin to ask yourself some questions. Like, “how did Stephen know I was looking for something?” And, “why does Stephen always direct me to the same pages.” If you’re like me, you might ask, “what time zone is Stephen in that he’s online and available to answer questions during my midnight B2B solutions sleuthing?”

And that’s when you realize it. Stephen is not real.

Stephen is a chatbot designed for one purpose, to move you through the sales funnel and convert you in a business opportunity for a company that really does not want to invest a real human to assist you. Those who employ chatbots might put it differently. They might say, “Stephen is there to provide customer solutions, making it easier and faster for you to find what you’re looking for.” Both are, technically, correct.

There’s no denying that chatbots as a tool possess a certain functionality. But as others have pointed out, we as marketers are often far too quick to latch onto shiny new tools and use them to try and game the system. And who can blame us? Even the slightest competitive advantage is everything in this business. But, all to often it comes at the expense of those we are trying to serve, and can quickly turn into an overreaching mess.

But for all this hate, chatbots can be quite successful in fielding inquiries, generating leads and providing quick solutions to customers. The place I’ve seen this done most effectively is within existing messenger apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Here you can seamlessly work in chatbots connected to third party apps to complete a task like setting up dinner reservations, ordering a ride, or checking the availability of a product. The user driven interaction makes the customer feel in charge. In other instances however, users are experiencing unsolicited spamming techniques from chatbots. There is obviously a narrow balance to getting this chatbot thing right.

But, if there’s a chance you’ll turn customers off, is it worth it? And, is the use of a chatbot a new tool, or simply a bandaid for a deeper problem?

If your thinking is that chatbots will make it easier for customers to get the information they need from your site, then it sounds like your real issue is that of user experience and content strategy. Before you dive into the great Chabot experiment, take a look at how you might improve the user journey through different navigation or content. Dedicated long term solutions in those departments are of much greater benefit then sinking money into a mostly unproven tool.

Another draw of chatbots for some businesses is the appearance of personality it adds to your site. This is flat out incorrect. There is nothing personal about a computer responding to algorithmic commands and patterns. Remember, your customers are smart. Just because there is a picture and a name of a real person doesn’t mean they’ll believe that’s the case. If anything they’ll read that attempt as disingenuous, an attempt to fool them, and believe that’s something you stand for. Phonies beware.

If you want to improve the personality of your site, invest in dedicated branding, design, copywriting, and website development solutions that will not only make your site and products feel more relatable to your customers, but will also provide a platform from which to launch your businesses’ growth. You can only do that through human to human real connections, through winning hearts, and chatbots will never bring that level of connectivity.

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