Content MarketingCustomer retentionUX design

Why we’re about to hit rock bot

By November 8, 2016 No Comments

Recently I’ve gone a bit Westworld (contemporaneous popular culture reference, check). I’ve been writing a script for a robot actor. Fortunately, my robot doesn’t threaten to become self-aware and fatally freak out. My robot is, in fact, a chatbot. And a very friendly chatbot to boot, mainly because I made it so.

I must admit, this was a new challenge. The paradox of adopting a non-human persona in order to have a human conversation with another human, one who is inherently aware that they’re not talking to a human, was certainly not lost on me. It’s not the kind of script I’d written before, but it seems very likely that I’ll be writing one again. This is where personalised, meticulously strategised, and above all adaptable creative content will truly stand out against the competition.

The paradox of adopting a non-human persona in order to have a human conversation with another human, one who is inherently aware that they’re not talking to a human

A cohesive customer journey

Chatbots are the new next big thing – a relatively untapped opportunity to engage your audience and quite literally guide them on a cohesive customer journey – and big brands are beginning to embrace them. The New York Times reported recently on the scale of investment being made by most of major banks in chatbot and A.I.-based technology, and it looks like a whole host of other companies are following suit.

The NYT article reads: “These bots are generally powered by artificial intelligence software that lets them pull in data and turn it into comprehensible answers, in the way that Apple’s Siri attempts to do.”

Big brands are beginning to embrace them

Incidentally, I overheard at a recent technology conference that the fundamental problem with Siri is a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ syndrome. It has too much data to sift through and would be a better tool at solving more niche problems. That said, I also discussed the pros and cons of Siri with one chief technology officer at another conference. While neither of us was particularly enamoured by Siri’s still-developing functionality, he told me – albeit in a slightly concerned tone – that his young daughters talk to the chatbot like it’s their friend. It must be a generational thing, we agreed.

Fintech and chatbots

Chatbots will become a hallmark of financial communication and fintech, and not least because they work in a way that resonates better with the younger generation. In the banking context they fulfil that ‘niche’ need.

At the moment, chatbots do very specific, easily programmable things, such as, say, checking your balance or helping you register for online banking. So, in their present form they are, much like Siri, still in their infancy. The iron is hot for an innovative bot; there’s opportunity here for some really cool, interactive content, but growth of this industry is already rapidly on the up.

Chatbots will become a hallmark of financial communication and fintech

The robot world

This incarnation of creative content began to gather pace earlier this year, when something like 33,000 chatbots were added to Facebook Messenger, after it was opened out to brands. Most seem to operate in specific and instantaneous customer service roles. Mastercard and Burberry, for example, are two big brand chatbots on Messenger, and indeed Burberry used this service to great effect during London Fashion Week.

At the end of September, meanwhile, Microsoft ramped up its next episode in A.I. From the people that brought you the famed chatbot Cortana, Microsoft has now established what it calls the “Microsoft A.I. and Research Group, that will encompass A.I. product engineering, basic and applied research labs, and New Experiences and Technologies.”

Most seem to operate in specific and instantaneous customer service roles

As I write, Twitter has just introduced a chatbot for its Direct Messenger service as the social channel moves to highlight its customer service benefits. A Twitter survey conducted in collaboration with Applied Marketing, which made the case for the Twitter chatbot, found that:

  • Customers are 44% more likely to share a positive experience, and 30% more likely to recommend a brand, after receiving a positive response on Twitter, compared with other channels.
  • Users are willing to spend between 3% and 20% more with a business in the future following a positive interaction on Twitter. Generally speaking, the faster the response, the better the income.

Lastly, the Bank of America recently debuted a kind of ‘beta’ version of its chatbot, which isn’t yet available to consumers. Early signs suggest it shows a surprising level of sophistication – being able to assess credit scores and spending habits – and, based on these analyses, can impart advice on how one can pay off debts or move money better. Crucially, and this, it is agreed, is a key point about chatbots, that advice is unbiased and non-judgmental. Converse to what would perhaps be popular belief, it is in this case the chatbot’s non-human aspect that proves more amenable to the customer.

The creative content case

Chatbots’ strengths lie in delivering a personalised customer experience. They’re like buses. They literally drive you along the customer journey, stop by stop, and when you’ve got to where you need to be they tell you where to get off. They’re quite intuitive.

Chatbots also save money; handing the core of your customer service or sales over to a robot seems, financially at least, a good idea. It gives highly skilled customer service people the breathing room to deal with more complex problems, while menial queries can be handled by the bot in an engaging and delightful manner that leaves the customer skipping off along their way.

They’re like buses. They literally drive you along the customer journey, stop by stop

Furthermore, they’re mobile-friendly. Effectively they assume the role of a “live” messenger app – an app that talks back to you. Whether you want an app that talks back to you is a different matter, but such a level of interaction in content really goes back to the whole generational divide thing.

And finally, the chatbot lends itself well to a future based around the Internet of Things (IoT). Amazon is currently in the throes of advertising its next big, purportedly game-changing IoT product, the Amazon Echo. The Echo is a multitasking console that takes charge of numerous household appliances and everyday functions, and it comes complete with, you’ve guessed it, a voice-controlled chatbot, called Alexa. Tell Alexa you want to create a to-do list, set an alarm or play a tune, and she’ll oblige gladly. Or rather, she’ll oblige unquestioningly.

And therein lies the rub: the rather fundamental hurdle to jump – and this goes back to our human-to-non-human paradox – it is that chatbots lack empathy. This isn’t a problem really when you just want to find out how to find out your bank balance online, and one can certainly see the advantage of having a non-judgmental financial advisor (to a point). Nevertheless, as things progress, this is where the competition will lie.

Some think that’s already happened. A recent report from Business Insider, The Chatbots Explainer, suggests that: “A.I. has reached a stage in which chatbots can have increasingly engaging and human conversations, allowing businesses to leverage the inexpensive and wide-reaching technology to engage with more consumers.”

I’m not convinced we’re quite there yet, from what I’ve seen. But we’re not far off. And this is where truly creative content comes into play. Personalised content is where the future lies, and a chatbot is a practically unrivalled way of anticipating customers’ needs and having a solution ready and waiting. Strategically, persona-based marketing techniques are pretty much made for this sort of thing, forecasting who the customer is, what they are likely to want and how to deliver it best, in ways that keep them coming back. From a content creator’s perspective, it’s an enticingly delicious challenge to sink one’s teeth into.

Personalised content is where the future lies, and a chatbot is a practically unrivalled way of anticipating customers’ needs

Chatbots it seems are already the next big thing, and despite TV and film’s penchant for dystopia, I highly doubt we’re en route to a Westworld / Humans / Terminator / Blade Runner-style future. In fact, a recent survey published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that consumers are very ready and willing to accept A.I. into their everyday. The same review also suggests that that overarching acceptance will be down to knowing your A.I. is underpinned by information from experts, people with hands-on experience or deep technological know-how.

So, your chatbot’s designed around expert information. All you need now is someone who can create a dialogue, that conveys that wealth of expertise in a warm, empathetic, engaging way. I definitely know of one human that can turn all that into a nice conversation. Just saying.

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