5 things brands should know before building a bot

Many brands haven't had the chance to play around with AI tech and are afraid they're falling behind, says Arnold Worldwide's director of digital strategy.

2017 was dubbed "The Year of the Bot," but it didn’t quite live up to its billing. The growth of messaging platforms and voice assistants like Amazon’s Echo inspired brands to rush into the space and build experiences using the technology. Unfortunately, most fell flat despite their lofty expectations. Users seeking all-knowing cognition had to settle for simple, guided journeys that hopefully had an easy exit ramp if you really wanted to get something done—whether it was Kayak’s Facebook bot sending you to their website to book versus doing so conversationally, or retail companies quickly sending customers that hit dead ends to live agents.

Look for that to change in 2018. As AI tech improves and as marketers become more familiar with how they need to structure activities for an AI-powered environment, brands will be able to build more meaningful experiences for their audiences.

But the reality is that many brands haven’t had the chance to play around in the space and are afraid they’re falling behind. For those looking to dip their toe or dive headfirst into the space this year, here are five things you should know before building a bot.

Your initial scope is probably too big.
We all like to envision the future state of being able to put our entire business into a bot, but as you start planning you’ll quickly begin to realize the enormity of that proposition. AI-powered bot experiences often require a different way of looking at the world, and you’ll likely find that even seemingly simple tasks can present unforeseen challenges.

In order to be successful, it’s critical that new-to-bot marketers focus their activities and create a clearly defined scope. For example, instead of trying to add your full product catalog to the experience, you might instead focus on your simplest product to sell. Then build for the target audience that is most open to engaging your brand on that platform.

Intelligence takes time.
You’ll need to initially temper your expectations around "intelligence." In fact, your bot will likely be pretty dumb at first. While technology, quality data and good planning can help provide a jumpstart, bots truly need to learn in order to get smarter. They need time and interactions to learn from, as well as a human hand to help guide them at key junctures. Make sure executive stakeholders understand the phases of the project and the work that needs to go into creating an intelligent experience so you don’t lose their support midway through the project.

Bot development can’t be a workaround, but can be a catalyst.
Marketers can sometimes see bots as a workaround to the tech challenges they face internally, almost like a tech solution they can own that doesn’t require internal IT team involvement. The challenge with that thinking is that AI-powered experiences need data and integrations in order to truly be valuable. While they’re not a workaround, they can be used as a catalyst—an opportunity to bridge the gap between marketing and IT—and work in a different way from past projects (small working group, faster timelines, agile development).

A human hand will still be needed.
While we all get excited about the potential efficiencies bots can create, the reality is you will still need a strong human hand available and at the ready, both in guiding the experience that’s built and in supporting customers that may not be successfully navigating that experience. Make sure your plan accounts for the time commitment needed from you to shape what’s built, and for the in-platform support from your customer service team to handle escalated issues.

Launch, review, revise, repeat.
Bots are an iterative process. No matter how well you plan, you will inevitably miss something. That said, don’t belabor the point on the planning end trying to account for every possible scenario. Once you have an MVP, get your experience out to a testing group and learn from their experiences. See where they struggle, where they drop off or what they end up valuing and revise your experience accordingly.

While we may still see some experiences fall short in 2018, one thing is certain—all brands need to begin playing in the space. In the wise words of Bill Gates, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next 2 years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction." Bots will be a critical vehicle in the future, and marketers need to ensure they’re taking action in the space now to be prepared for that future.

Matt Dunn is Director, Digital and Social Strategy at Arnold Worldwide.

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