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November 18, 2016

The age of the connected consumer has arrived.The world population that owns a mobile device today, is five billion, and more than three billion can instantly connect with anyone in the world through the internet.Technology is drastically changing the way we think, analyze, make decisions, and interact with brands and each other shopping online or offline after looking at product recommendations on Amazon and other sites; hanging out with friends at a new coffee shop or bar which has a good online customer rating; or simply booking movie tickets on a mobile app at home, and walking into the movie hall without stopping at the ticket window for a paper transaction.

According to a Salesforce research report on smart customers that surveyed more than 7,000 global consumers and business buyers, 61% respondents said technology is redefining their behaviors. There has been a paradigm shift in the way customers expect to interact with businesses based on technological advances. This creates both opportunities and challenges for business that are focused on engaging with connected consumers who have heightened expectations.

Technologies such as artificial Intelligence and machine learning are no longer part of the scientific mumbo jumbo but are making inroads to our daily lives. Recently, Google launched Allo, a smart messaging app aided by machine learning that helps keep conversations going enabling users to respond to messages with just a tap. Allo Smart Reply suggests responses for messages and photos and learns your style over time. Similarly, Chatbots are also becoming prevalent among brands to interact with customers and provide customer service. Earlier this month, Twitter announced two chatbot-based products Welcome Messages and Quick Replies – aimed specifically at brands and businesses to connect with their new followers on Twitter and respond to their queries instantly. However, it was Facebook that first introduced chatbot services for brands early this year and now has extended the chatbot feature to newsfeed ads, enabling target audiences of the ads to initiate a discussion with brands on Facebook via chatbots.

At a time when there is so much focus on personalization of brand touch points, can chatbots provide a unique, fulfilling and personal experience to shoppers?Is it ironical that pre-coded bots responding to customers queries, area part of personalization strategies for some brands?Well, the answer again lies in the increased expectations of the connected consumer and the changes in consumer behavior brought about by technology. There is a culture of immediacy among the millennials, the most mobile generation, as they expect no delay in response when they are interacting with companies.As per the Sales Force Smart Consumer Survey, 80% say a company responding immediately when they reach out for help influences their loyalty. The survey also shows64% B2C consumers, and 80% B2B consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.


Among cosmetic brands and fashion retailers, Sephora has been at the forefront of leveraging chatbots to provide useful and effective information across customer touch points. Earlier this year, Sephora launched its first chatbot on the messaging app Kik, where users could find product reviews, beauty tips and product recommendations after providing information about their preferences through a fun quiz. Recently, it also extended the chatbot service on Facebook messenger. Sephora Reservation Assistant, is a chatbot on messenger that assists customers in making appointments at the nearby Sephora stores across US. The second chatbot Sephora launched, Color Match has a shade matching feature. The Sephora Virtual Artist bot scans any photo uploaded by the user and instantly provides the closest lipstick color match from Sephoras collection.


Trim, a fintech startup was introduced last year as a SMS-based chatbot and later added Facebook Messenger bot. After signing up, customers register their credit cards and then Trim scans their bills for recurring subscription charges. In the SMS chatbot, Trim texts users asking if they want to cancel a subscription, handling the cancellation process for them. Trim chatbots make the customer interactions very fast and simple, for example if a customer wants to cancel her/his gym subscription, they can do so by just messaging the chatbot over messenger or sms, and it will be taken care of.


The ride hailing service giant has a chatbot within the Facebook Messenger app allowing Facebook users to initiate a conversation with the Uber chatbot to request a ride. Alternately, messenger users can also request for a ride while chatting with their contacts, and making plans with friends within the same chat window.

Chatbots are a hot property right now, even biggies like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called themthe next big thing, and businesses, even big brands, are trying to realize the potential of this super smart AI tool. While there has been a huge proliferation of mobile app based consumer experiences, an average person ends up using only 7-8 apps on her/his smartphone on a regular basis. Chatbots are well suited for mobile environment as they create a chat ecosystem and, can also integrate well with messaging apps without requiring you to download an extra app!

In 2015 Ubers Chris Messina coined the term conversational commerce in an article, implying the intersection of messaging apps and shopping. Towards the beginning of this year some brand experts touted 2016 to be the year of chatbots. As we near the end of the year, its still early days for adoption of AI, Machine Learning and chatbots by brands to enhance consumer experience, although some of the examples have been quite revealing and intuitive.

Is your business using chatbots, or any of the other AI tools? Have you had a chatbot experience, while interacting with a brand? Share your stories with us.

Aditi Roy Ghatak is Digital Marketing Content Strategist with the TCS Digital Software & Solutions Group. She has extensive experience in technology research which includes upcoming trends in the digital, social and information technology field and analyzing their applications across businesses. She also has prior experience in market intelligence activities which included studying industry trends to identify potential business opportunities and has been responsible for segment and account based marketing. She has published articles on enterprise cloud applications across industries and digital as well as social media trends. She covers current topics and digital trends in the e-Commerce and customer analytics space on the Because Digital blog.


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