I’m done with work and am about to take a brief walk outside. It’s a somewhat humid summer evening, but thankfully, it’s cool, so the bugs are subdued, chirping quietly in the grass and trees. These walks are when I decompress and take stock of the day. So much happens during the day, so many conversations and concerns, I need this quiet time to refocus and think about what’s important. Just as I step out, I remember I need to set up an appointment with my eye doctor this week. I grab my phone and head out.

 

A few minutes down the road, I pass a particularly lush yard with lots of fireflies blinking in and out of sight. It’s all beautiful until one stray firefly smacks into my glasses. I remove them and pull out a handkerchief and wipe them off. I hear the frame crack. Good heavens, this evening is not going as I planned. I can’t see the crack, but they seem to be holding together loosely. I carefully put them back on and pull out my phone.

 

My eye doctor’s practice has a horrible website, but thankfully, they were prescient enough to have a Facebook Messenger bot. They had other channels, like Telegram, Kik, Slack – none of which I’d heard of, but they sounded cool. Oh, I could text them too. But I use Messenger, so I opened up Messenger and searched for their bot.

 

The moment I tapped on it, I got a bunch of menu buttons: Appointments, Hours, Directions among several. I tapped on Appointments, and it asked me how soon I wanted to come in. I wanted to do it tomorrow, and the bot told me there was an opening at 2:30 in the afternoon. Perfect, I tapped the button and confirmed the appointment. It asked me if I wanted a reminder and I said yes, so it scheduled a push notification for noon tomorrow.

 

Just as I was about to end the session, the bot piped up with a coupon for 20% off for frames. What luck! I tapped yes, and it sent me the QR code and a link in case I wanted to print it out. Perfect. What a relief! I finished my stroll, walking a little stiffly on account of my glasses wobbling a bit, but all in all, what could have been a frustrating evening, ended up being just fine.

Businesses today compete on attention. Specifically, they fight for the attention of customers and prospects. Your business can be creating and selling the greatest app, widget, or service, but what you do to retain customer loyalty and gain your prospects attention will determine speed to growth, sustainability, and profitability.

Of course, this attention is hard-won so whatever you do to keep that attention for as long as possible will lead to winning that prospect’s business and their loyalty. Over the years we’ve seen different channels to capture that attention, from newspaper ads to TV commercials to websites to apps and social media. The latest one, and the one that is notably different than previous attempts at capturing attention is the chatbot.

The other phrase synonymous with chatbot is “conversational commerce.” What’s so different about this one than all the other channels? It’s a simple answer but one that commands a lot more effort: a conversation. As people, the best way to get to know a person, to build a relationship is, of course, having conversations. But how can one do that with a business? Can businesses have a conversation with its customer or prospect? With chatbots, this is at least possible now.

Historically, businesses have had to spend a lot of time and money into creating what are eventually passive experiences for their target. With chatbots, this shifts entirely to an active engagement model. Combined with either basic decision tree logic, or more complex AI, chatbots are maturing into effective and efficient tools to entice, capture, and enhance a customer’s engagement experience.

The field is still pretty open from an enterprise perspective; the first and most natural place chatbots are showing results is in the e-commerce and retail world for now, and particularly in the customer experience sector. Companies use this for a quick survey or sending coupons or some form of follow-up engagement. But think of all the customer experience interactions that are possible between a brand and its audience, and we’re just scratching the surface.

The fun (or silly) anecdote above is just one example of how chatbots in a service industry could be used. Another example is polling or voting: Swelly on the Messenger is an excellent example of peer-peer polling or voting. With the convergence of AI, messaging, and customer experience – chatbots are rising to the forefront of the attention acquisition game. Those who can design and deliver a stellar, conversational experience, are likely to come out ahead.