Chinese search engine giant Baidu is one of the latest brands in the Asia-Pacific region to transform its customer experience through artificial intelligence (AI) technology: In October, the Chinese search engine launched Melody, an AI-powered chatbot that lives inside the search engine’s existing Doctor app. The app collects users’ medical information to help doctors make more informed diagnostic decisions.
While the concept of chatbots–a technology that simulates human conversation–isn’t new, its potential is being transformed thanks to advancements in AI. This, along with adoption by legacy brands, will drive the refinement of chatbot use to effectively engage customers in a more personalised way.
Growing Use In APAC
People are becoming so accustomed to chat application interfaces that chatbot use is pegged to explode. Within two years, 25% of the world’s population will be using chat apps, eMarketer has found, with APAC currently driving a large proportion of this growth.
Isabella Barbato, head of marketing, Asia Pacific, at content discovery and marketing platform Outbrain, pointed out that APAC accounts for more than half of the world’s chat app users.
“With this figure set to grow even further due to fast-growing markets, such as India and Indonesia, we are likely to see more brands and marketers in this region turn to chatbots to help automate and cultivate brand experiences in a more one-to-one conversational style,” she said.
As mobile penetration continues to increase across the region at large, APAC is perfectly placed at the epicentre of the chatbot revolution, said Ishan Chatterjee, client solutions director, Southeast Asia and India, for marketing company VML.
Inspiring this progression is Chinese instant-messaging platform WeChat. “WeChat has been a standout in this region due to its host of payment and utility ‘sub-applications’ within the WeChat app,” Chatterjee said. “You can hail a taxi, order food, buy movie tickets, or pay your utility bills.”
Indeed, “some brand bots will be a major portal for e-commerce,” as demonstrated by WeChat. However, as the technology behind chatbots becomes more sophisticated, so, too, will the application of chatbots by brands.
Making Bots Work For Your Brand
DBS, Southeast Asia’s biggest bank, implemented chatbot technology in the second half of 2016, becoming the first in the financial services industry to do so. Outbrain’s Barbato said she is noticing other brands disrupting their respective industries by adopting the technology.
“Brands such as Sephora and H&M are using chatbots to drive consumer discovery of product tips and pictures in the region,” Barbato said, adding that she has noticed the majority of industries use bots as customer service tools to “aid consumer purchase decisions and deliver personal assistance.”
With personalisation vital in converting site visitors into potential buyers, chatbots offer great opportunities for marketers looking to engage consumers in a fresh, yet intimate manner.
“Chatbots rely greatly on deep learning,” remembering past interactions and adapting to customers’ behavior, explained Rohit Dadwal, managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association, Asia Pacific.
“[Chatbots] store data to develop future interactions and eventually become smarter in the process,” he said. “For instance, Uber has tied up with Facebook Messenger to allow customers to request rides by simply sending a message to the Uber chatbot without having to go through the hassle of downloading the Uber app.”
At present, chatbots best suit top-of-the-funnel marketing because of their ability to facilitate awareness and educate prospective customers, according to Barbato.
Prepare For Bot Nation
Last year, chatbots were a piece of AI being tested and implemented in multiple ways thanks to the deep pockets of juggernauts including Facebook and Microsoft. With mobile and chat apps expected to play a more vital role in 2017, more industries are expected to adopt the technology and refine it.
“If done correctly, the interaction with a chatbot tends to be far more effective long term, as it is meant to serve an existing customer need,” Chatterjee said, “as opposed to attempting to generate a brand connection, as most current marketing platforms aim to develop.
Dadwal implored marketers to leverage this shift in consumer behaviour by considering more interactive forms of marketing engagement. “Marketers with chatbots deliver the promising potential of better customer understanding while providing them with more personalised services and options,” he said.