Consumers are a little tired of inbound marketing.
To be more specific, they're tired of the kind of inbound marketing that has gotten repetitive and mechanic. You can't blame them. Legions of marketers have been marching to the beat of Hubspot for years now. Consumers have learned the drill. They're ready for a fresh approach, even if it's just a slight alteration to the usual inbound game.
This brings us to one of the marketing buzzwords that have been spreading like wildfire recently: Conversational marketing.
(Or also called "conversation" marketing by some).
Marketers see that consumers want something more. One of the key answers to this demand for "something more" is something more human. This comes in two parts:
- Individualized, active listening practiced at every interaction the company has with a customer.
- Effective, humanized conversation-focused technology guided by the latest advancements in Artificial Intelligence.
Understanding conversational marketing will help you design more effective chatbots. In other words, the technology of chatbots becomes even more effective when placed in the middle of a conversational marketing strategy that is constantly being refined and practiced in every area of the company's operation.
Rediscovering an Old Treasure: How Does Conversational Marketing Work?
To be sure, this is not anything new. Conversational marketing has been practiced in every marketplace since the dawn of human civilization. The difference here is that today's marketers are rediscovering it a new context: AI technology and 21st century content marketing.
As noted in Ian Lurie's book Conversation Marketing: Internet Marketing Strategies, conversation marketing has the opposite mentality of accumulation marketing--i.e. going after huge numbers of customers with mass marketing initiatives so that a certain percentage of the crown is enticed enough to buy the product or service.
It shows interest in the customer's thoughts, preferences, and life experiences as it relates to the product, then it adjusts its service or product to better fit that individual's needs. The merchant isn't just hawking items and talking at customers, in other words.
In addition, conversational marketing is not just about getting inside the heads of customers; it's getting inside their emotions, then responding with empathy in a way that makes them want to do business with you again.
Practical Step 1. A Listening Campaign
To develop your conversational marketing, you must launch a listening campaign. This means using all means at your disposal to engage and survey customers, ask them questions, and start real conversations with them at every opportunity.
This first stage is not meant to capture leads or make sales, necessarily. You're simply gathering as much information as you can directly from your customers.
You may already have systems in place to do this, and there are many ways to engage customers online or in-person (i.e. surveys, analytics, social media comments, in-person interviews with customers in your store).
Here are a few helpful tips for an effective listening campaign:
- Observe and listen to as many customer service interactions as possible: This means having managers sit in on calls in the call center or having employees observe other customer interactions in real-time. Get the management there to witness the entire customer service journey.
- Role-play customer experiences: Have an employee act as if they are a customer and go through the entire customer journey. Create simulated customer journeys and place employees in them as if they were secret shoppers. The bottom-line: you need to do more than just imagine what it's like to be in your customers' shoes. You need to actually stand in their place and experience what they experience when they interact with your brand.
- Spend time with your customers outside of the normal sales funnel environment: In a business-to-business (B2B) context, company executives can invite some of their top clients to join them for personal development events such as leadership seminars. By learning valuable skills together, you not only build a bond with your customers, but you get to know them on a personal level. This will unlock valuable insights about all of your clients who have been drawn to your product or service. While this may not work as well in a business-to-consumer (B2C) context, companies can find other ways to bring employees and customers together in shared experiences. For example, a company can have interactive booths at conferences and have employees try out the company's newest products right alongside the customers, then have a discussion afterward about their shared experience. Businesses can hold drawings for free tickets to exciting entertainment and social events, and have employees join them at the event or before or after the event for meet-and-greet sessions. The goal is to give employees the opportunity to observe their customers outside of the sales context. This humanizes the customer and gives employees added insights into what makes the consumers in their market tick.
Practical Step 2. Observe Their Language (and Adjust Your Chatbot Accordingly)
As you're interacting with customers in real-time or after you've gathered information, analyze the language customers use when they talk about your brand and your industry. Customers can often develop their own jargon or buzz words that are meaningful to them. The more you understand the language or meaningful words that customers use when they talk about your brand and industry, the better. You can use this information when you're training employees for better customer interactions and when you're programming your chatbot. If your chatbot uses the same lingo and "speaks their language" when talking to customers, the AI customer service experience will be more effective and appealing.
Practical Step 3. Observe Their Emotions (and Make Your Chatbot More Empathetic)
It's more than just analyzing word use and jargon. This is where human observation is critical and why it will be helpful to have human-to-human engagement when you're surveying customers and conducting your listening campaign. You need to understand the emotions that customers feel in regards to your brand and industry. This may include positive and negative emotions.
For example, the more you understand the pain points and frustration a customer feels, the more human and empathetic your chatbot engagement will be if you program its responses accordingly.
In addition, if you understand the positive emotions--the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and joy a customer feels when things go well in the sales process and in their use of your products or services--the warmer and more appealing your chatbot interactions will be. Your chatbot will know when to empathize with the customer and when it's a good time to express positive emotions at specific points of success in the customer's journey.
What the Data Says About Conversational Marketing
The data shows a growing demand for conversational marketing and well-designed chatbots. Customers are getting tired of the traditional marketing models.
For example, data has shown the open rate for email campaigns has decreased over the years. As MailChimp reported in an email marketing study, the average open rate for all industries is only about 20 percent.
In their State of the Connected Customer study, Salesforce found that 63 percent of Millennial consumers and 58 percent of GenX consumers feel comfortable sharing more of their data with companies if it will give them a more personalized customer experience. 84 percent of consumers placed a very strong value on being treated as an individual and being given customized treatment from companies.
It's no surprise then to discover that consumers have been looking for personalized, conversational customer experiences wherever they can find them, and that includes chatbots.
In a joint study produced by several companies in January 2018, the following trends about chatbots were found:
- 60 percent of their study's survey respondents said they have used a chatbot in the last 12 months
- 37 percent would be willing to use a chatbot in an emergency
- 35 percent would use a chatbot solve a complaint or problem
Interest in chatbots is definitely growing. In addition, the same study found that consumers are becoming dissatisfied with the traditional, non-conversational methods of inbound marketing. For example:
- 34 percent complained about having to search a company's website without personalized, conversational guidance because the consumers said the sites are often hard or time-consuming to navigate.
- 31 percent complained they can't get answers to simple questions when they're left on their own to research a company's website.
The Secret: Carefully Combine HI (Human Intelligence) With AI (Artificial Intelligence) to Create Productive Conversations
As the science of deep learning progresses, Artificial Intelligence will become the key to taking quality one-on-one conversational marketing and scaling it to meet the needs of your company. With each passing year, chatbots will play a bigger role in the way companies define their brands and win a customer's loyalty in crowded markets.
As Forbes notes:
For too long, customer service has been relegated to a formulaic question-and-answer scenario that rarely leaves the customer satisfied and often doesn't solve the problem at hand. Using conversational AI technology allows you to reimagine the engagement process, even in the most basic of customer service transactions, and collect valuable data that can inform future interactions. Rather than simply helping a customer change a flight, for example, conversational AI for an airline could find lodging and transportation for a customer's trip and even make suggestions for future travel.
But the human element will never leave the customer service equation.
Even as chatbots become more intelligent and effective, companies will need to present a polished combination of Human Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence. Businesses will need to take live-messaging customer service operated by humans and blend it with AI chatbots who supplement and enhance the live-chatting. Real-time social media interaction will be paired with powerful chatbots. Human Intelligence will be joined with Artificial Intelligence at strategic points until quality conversational marketing is happening at every touch point a company has with a customer.