Software is eating the world. That’s what famed venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said in a Wall Street Journal article in 2011. Fast forward five years and it’s clear that he was correct – software is indeed ubiquitous. But not all software is equal. Messaging apps are experiencing a meteoric rise above all others.
Flurry, a mobile analytics firm, says that messaging app sessions saw a 103 percent rise globally as far back as 2014, and sustained a 51 percent rise in 2015. General-purpose chat app WhatsApp had 50 percent greater traffic than all global text message use. And Snapchat, once the domain of Millennials only, now has a daily average user count of 100 million. Furthermore, 50 percent of the top eight downloaded apps in the UK are messengers, while two out of the top three are chat apps from Facebook.
This evolution of messaging platforms and the rise of chatbots represents a paradigm shift in our always-on world. Marketers now have the opportunity to be more plugged in to their target consumers’ conversations. And, as a business today, it is critical to understand this mega-trend and respond in short order. This is the dawn of the “post app” era and will be as transformational for businesses and consumers as apps were a decade ago.
Chat UI has a zero learning curve
A chat user interface (UI) can work in a variety of situations. But why is it preferred?
First, there’s a similarity across the user interfaces of chat apps, so there’s no need to learn a new UI or pattern. Chat boils down to text on the right/left and input on the bottom – it’s digital second nature now for many. This instinctual understanding gives brands a head start when designing an engaging experience for their consumers. As Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, puts it, “We already know how to chat, so making requests is easy.”
Second, chat can be instantaneous or asynchronous. If you want a bus time, then bots, artificial intelligence (AI), and schedules can share a schedule in real time. If you want to buy luchador finery, then humans can take some time to find you the best deal.
Unlike the telephone or web, messaging affords us constant communication. For example, it gives customers quick access to information while on the go and can grant them answers even when brand representatives are not available. Brand service, therefore, becomes even more continuous and dependable.
Third, it’s an ideal medium for customer service. If social media has taught us anything, it’s that people love to engage with brands for everything from satisfied reviews to customer service complaints. Chat apps allow customers the same opportunity, but in a discreet venue that’s more personal for the consumers and less damaging to brands. It’s also just more helpful to have a one-on-one service experience.
Last, in a post-Snowden era, messaging apps seem to be the last great refuge for privacy. Messaging apps, when compared to social media, pose a safer communication stream for consumer data. Most major chat companies now have encryption enabled by default. For example, while Telegram’s encryption has long been lauded by privacy advocates, competitor WhatsApp recently made headlines when it enabled end-to-end encryption on all communications.
Infinite chat integrations into branded ecosystems
Brands have always fished where the fish are. Today, that means expeditions into messaging apps. Facebook Messenger has successful integrations with Uber to reserve a car, and KLM to provide boarding passes and flight updates, among other brands. Thanks to these advances, consumers who need to get to the airport can now do so without ever leaving the Facebook app.
Millennial favorite Kik has seen over eighty “promoted chats” with bots for brands like MTV, the Washington Post, and Skull Candy. Perhaps its most successful bot campaign was with NBCUniversal to promote the horror film Insidious 3. A bot with the personality of the haunted main character Quinn exchanged on average sixty-nine messages across nearly 350,000 participants.
These integrations will only increase as each of the major players creates its own “bot store.” Kik and Skype both launched their own versions of bot stores in early 2015. WeChat is already home to over 10 million “official accounts” which are thin apps (light versions that don’t require installation) or bots. More so, there’s a third-party opportunity here (as we saw with app stores) for new businesses to emerge. For example, you can play poker, explore restaurant menus, and receive travel advisories via chatbots.
Facebook is anticipating this explosion of bot development. At the most recent F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s entrance into the bot store arena. Media and commerce were the dominant examples, including demonstrations from CNN and 1-800-Flowers. While people are sharing less on Facebook, they are talking more than ever before on Facebook Messenger (900 million people per month, to be exact). In fact, this platform will be the first experience that many people will have with bots.
Branded chat personas at work
Many people already use services like Nike+ or Moves for fitness tracking. But it’s easy to imagine those apps becoming more like real coaches via the addition of chat behaviors and bots. Likewise, your banking app could become a financial advisor that answers basic questions about mortgages. While it won’t take the place of your real banker, the chatbot offers more intuitive and efficient ways to answer standard questions, filter requests, and gather more information for a customer service specialist.
The requirements of designing a successful chat experience are different than building websites or delivering apps. Figuring out the personality of the brand is key. Is your brand voice funny, smart, or authoritative? How is the bot going to behave when a customer asks an unrelated question or isn’t able to clearly communicate his/her issue? Those are questions that we’ve always asked when creating branded experiences, but now they take real prominence.
The rise of chat gives marketers the unparalleled opportunity to align what their brands do with what they say. The right chat strategy, when executed well, will merge a brand’s persona with consumer expectations to create a seamless, intuitive experience. Whether that means adding chat functions to proprietary apps or creating branded bots on big platforms, organizations can now have more personalized conversations with their customers.
To find out how conversational UI is ushering us into the era of mainstream artificial intelligence and how these themes apply to other industries (such as retail, consumer packaged goods, automotive, and travel), download the extended PDF here.
By Daniel Harvey and Kieron Leppard, Creative Directors for Experience Design at SapientNitro London