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Want to chat? How brands can have one-to-one conversations

Luca Vergani


MEC Italy



Chatbots are conversational platforms, based on AI technology, that are able to simulate a conversation with users via messaging platforms. They represent one of the best examples of the computing revolution that is now under way. Computers are no longer just supposed to support us in the search of information. They are now programmed also to learn from our actions and anticipate our needs.

They represent a cultural revolution in terms of new ways to use the web, mobile devices and applications, and they also bring opportunities for brands to interact with customers and create a direct relationship with them.

But how does a chatbot work? It can run on a messaging platform, like Facebook Messenger, or it can run within a mobile app, specifically created for the brand.

If I want to know, for instance, which shampoo within a specific brand’s range best suits my type of hair, all I have to do is searching for the company on Messenger, type the question and wait for the answer, which usually comes in a very short time. Bots are based on a set of defined questions and answers. Conversation after conversation, chatbots store information, and learn how to better customize their answers based on the users’ needs.

Chatbots enable companies to:

·       Smooth the customer journey, supplying useful content and information

·           Deliver news or information based on selected interests

·           Create a valuable link with users, strengthening brand image and loyalty

According to eMarketer, people use chatbots to resolve an issue as they would use customer support (67 percent), to have fun (30 percent), to find/purchase products (25 percent), and to increase productivity (14 percent) as with a calendar or personal assistant.

Their success is due to several factors, including the fact that the use of messaging platforms in 2016 overtook the use of social networks. We also have to consider the evolution of technologies related to artificial intelligence, and three main properties that have made them a winning model:

·       Usability: they are introduced in platforms already used by consumers.


·       Frictionless: they can help satisfy several needs but all look the same in terms of interface, making dialogue fast and easy.


·       Customization: living inside an existing ecosystem, they are able to start a dialogue straight away, absorbing pre-existing data; this way, the customer experience is quickly customized.

This last feature above all opens a world of possibility for brands. And so it happens that the fragrance startup Spring turned its chatbot into a personal shopping assistant, Huffington Post allows users to search for news by topic and suggests articles based on interests, and the Italian Farmaciebot uses geolocation of smartphones to suggest a list of pharmacies available close to the user’s position.


Brands have available to them a powerful new tool, if they follow a few easy rules:

·       Set objectives and measurement metrics: Chabot’s’ tasks must be very clear to the company and at the same time, they must be clearly communicated to the customers so that they are perfectly aware of what they can use them for. If a brand wants to position itself as dynamic and sensitive to customers’ needs, a chatbot can improve customer service and support e-shoppers through “conversational commerce”.


·           Identify the target: This step is crucial to determining the channel on which it will be used, the tone of voice it should adopt, and also the set of questions it will be equipped to answer.


·       Ensure the chatbot is “human”: It's not about pretending that there is a real person on the other side instead of a robot, but the added value of this kind of interaction is the customization of the answers and a brand’s ability to get to know its users, not just provide automatic answers. For this, some brands – including Facebook’s own M personal assistant chatbot – alternate automatic responses with sessions with real people, to deal with questions or colloquial forms not yet learned by the algorithms.

Since April 2016, when Facebook opened Messenger to chatbots, the number of chatbots has been rising by 130 every day, and millions of people are already using them. The trend is growing, and by some estimates, the global chatbot market will reach almost US $1 billion worth of investment by 2024.

In Italy, chatbots are mainly used to provide information, and many newspapers use chatbots in Telegram or Facebook to send push notifications. They’re also used in e-commerce, to speed up the link to a product page, and, above all, for customer care. There is great enthusiasm around this technology, though few companies understand perfectly how to use chatbots as a marketing tool to improve the relationship with customers. We are still in the experimental phase, and there is a lot of potential to explore.