By Rob Blackie, Director of Social at OgilvyOne UK

 

Bots are suddenly getting a lot of attention, with the Microsoft CEO saying that they are the new apps.

Mostly that’s because Facebook’s made it easier to build bots. And at the same time machine learning is taking off - promising smarter experiences from bots.

But that’s all missing something that’s pretty basic.

Which is that Bots are like email - but better.

Email still gets superb results for many marketers. People pay attention to emails. And marketers have lots of data about whether emails are opened, clicked and, sometimes, drive sales. Quality bot data will also soon be available for marketers - and just like email they’ll be able to see things like the performance of different customer segments, how different messages work, and to learn quickly.

People noticed email because of pop up notifications on their smartphones - so that around 20% of emails get opened. Facebook Messenger, where most bots live, also drive notifications on your home screen.

People also notice email because they opt-in to it - just like bots.

Bots are also default logged in - just like email. Unlike returning to a website, or even a normal app, notifications are noticed because they are ever-present.

Just like email, bot messages are also persistent - so that people can come back to them later - unlike the standard social stream format.

And there’s no algorithm to hide your Bot messages, unlike email where promotions tabs now hide a lot.

So it’s unsurprising that the Messenger Bots that we’ve worked on are dramatically outperforming email - averaging over 50% of messages opened.

Bots are also great for the long term. People regularly change email addresses - I’ve had at least 15 in the last decade. Experian estimate that email databases degrade by over 20% a year.

But people’s Facebook identity is incredibly stable - people hardly ever change profile. So 100 people signed up to a bot will, after 4 years, only have been eroded by unsubscriptions, while an email database will have degraded by over 50%.

Over one year we estimate that the combined impact of higher open rates and slower attrition alone means that an opted in bot user is worth 277% of an email address.

App use degrades as well when people switch phones. People simply forget to restore the app on their new phone or don’t bother. But bots, installed through Messenger, will transfer automatically to new devices.

That’s not the full story though.

Bots can also drive value in other ways.

Identity is always 100% present in a bot. Every time you open your phone you’re the same person. And every time you contact your utility through the bot they can see what you’ve called about before.

If an average phone call to a call centre cost just 50p per minute then switching to bots could save dramatic amounts. The initial parts of a phone call, which verify identity and look somebody up in a database, can be entirely cut out or streamlined. For large utilities this value alone could save millions of pounds a year.

And bots are now being opened up to payments. The impact of single-click purchasing on mobile cannot be under-estimated. People hate filling in forms on mobile.

Mobile retailers need a minimum of seven fields for a mobile purchase, and average more around 13, so, typically, people are reluctant to buy on mobile. When they do it’s either urgent purchases or repeat purchases through apps, where their payment details are saved (e.g. Ocado or Uber).

Messenger will have your payment details, and home address, saved soon. So you can buy in one-click.

Single click buying potentially transforms ecommerce - especially for categories where purchasing is only occasional, such as travel and a lot of retail goods (e.g. You might have the Ocado app but you probably don’t have the Boots app). People rarely buy plane tickets on mobile - but with single click buying that will change - making marketing on mobile, and especially social, dramatically more effective.

How big?

Well WeChat in China has had simple bot-style buying for a couple of years. And this year 500m people sent 'red envalope' presents at Chinese New Year using WeChat. Entire categories could be transformed by bots - for instance cosmetics in China are now sold 56% online, a category still largely offline in the UK.

So bots are one of the most important developments for customer experience in years.

Don’t just build one for the sake of building a bot. But seriously consider if a bot might make life better for your customers. In a few years it might be as odd to not have a bot as to refuse to use email.

This was first published in The Drum.