Brands get on the chatbot bandwagon

Brands across service categories, from Yes Bank to Meru Cabs, are increasingly looking at chatbots to engage with consumers


Users can launch Facebook’s Messenger app from Yes Tag and check account balance and recent transactions, make enquiries and chequebook request or even transfer funds to registered beneficiaries.
Users can launch Facebook’s Messenger app from Yes Tag and check account balance and recent transactions, make enquiries and chequebook request or even transfer funds to registered beneficiaries.

Yes Bank Ltd said that its chatbot Yes Tag, launched in April, has done 10,000 transactions with 7,500 customers. The bot is available on Facebook’s Messenger, Twitter, Skype, Telegram and WeChat and offers a conversational banking experience.

Users can launch Facebook’s Messenger app from Yes Tag and check account balance and recent transactions, make enquiries and chequebook request or even transfer funds to registered beneficiaries.

Taxi service Meru Cabs, which beta launched its bot on Messenger in May, claims that around 70% of the overall actions on bots are cab-booking requests.

Brands across service categories are increasingly looking at chatbots, software that can exchange messages with humans, to engage with consumers. Brands such as Kotak Mahindra Bank, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s are also working on their chatbot strategies. With the growing buzz around bots, digital agencies are setting up separate teams to help brands with the new technology so that they can acquire and engage consumers on chat apps where they spend several hours a day.

Since bots are created inside messaging platforms, the user does not have to install a separate app or open a browser window on the phone. In its simplest avatar, a bot can assist consumers with information on weather and traffic updates, product search and discovery and customer support. A more evolved bot can also help a consumer shop, referred to as conversational commerce.

Having a bot strategy for brands in India assumes significance in view of the growing population of smartphone users, which stands at 250 million as of August and is the second biggest smartphone market after China, according to Counterpoint Technology Market Research. Besides, the country’s interest in messaging platforms will further aid bot adoption and usage.

“India is much more messaging centric than many other parts of the world, hence it will lead the way when it comes to bot usage,” said Beerud Sheth, chief executive at Gupshup, a platform for developers to build, deploy and manage bots.

Yes Bank has, so far, done more than 13,000 transactions in terms of transferring funds since the launch of its Yes Tag bot. “A significant number of customers seek bot’s assistance for performing simple actions such as requesting a cheque book, cancelling a cheque payment, obtaining term deposit details, etc,” said Ritesh Pai, senior president and country head, digital banking, Yes Bank.

“Chatbots are based on natural language processing (NLP), thus it brings human and conversational approach to digital channels without the need of having multiple apps,” said Deepak Sharma, chief digital officer, Kotak Mahindra Bank. The bank is currently testing chatbot technology in its Bengaluru Innovation lab and is working towards introducing it in customer service.

Ravi Bhushan, chief technology officer at NewsCorp-backed real estate adviser PropTiger.com and Makaan.com said that users are asking all sorts of questions—from searching for properties to buy or rent, investment options, specific details about project, price trends, service tax and bank loans.

An increased focus on having a bot strategy can easily be attributed to the exploding growth of messaging platforms in the country.

Gauging the opportunity, Facebook opened its messenger platform for bot development in April this year. Meanwhile, Microsoft allows developers to create bots on multiple platforms like Office 365, SMS and Telegram, along with popular video chat application Skype. Google has also recently joined the bandwagon with Allo, a chat platform with advanced artificial intelligence capabilities. However, it is still not open to bot development.

“Chatting is the closest possible thing to a face to face communication. With emerging technology such as artificial intelligence we could circumvent the gap between thinking what consumer wants and delivering what he/she is looking for. The problem with websites and apps is that if a consumer goes to look for a particular product (a white shirt, for instance), 95% of the websites/apps become irrelevant to him/her. Bot solves that problem and give brands a chance to efficiently target the consumer,” said Harish Shankaran, director, creative technology, Maxus India, who is currently busy working with brands helping them devise their bot strategy.

Apart from GroupM-owned media agency Maxus, a host of other digital agencies are also working on cracking the chatbot strategy for brands. WAT Consult, a digital agency owned by Dentsu Aegis Network, has been running two bot-based projects with brands.

“We have received a lot of interests from brands across food delivery, e-commerce, clothing and beauty space in the last six months. The agency has developed an internal technology for bots apart from partnering with third-party vendors. I see bots becoming a big trend in the coming years,” said Rajiv Dingra, founder and chief executive, WAT Consult.

OgilvyOne Worldwide India, the digital and customer engagement arm of the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather, has a separate tech team that specializes in bots.

“There has been interest from our clients, especially from a services standpoint in sectors such as banking and telecom. This is an area that is increasingly getting interest because of its potential,” said Namrata Balwani, former senior vice-president and Delhi head, OgilvyOne Worldwide, who feels that bots will have an impact on content distribution, customer acquisition and retention, customer service and recommendations as well as commerce and transactions.

“From an analytics standpoint, bots can impact data analysis and optimization. Of course, they have to be deployed intelligently, and provide true value to the consumer,” she said.

Yet bots come with their challenges. Brands will have a herculean task ensuring a seamless bot experience including making the bots responsive, keeping consumers engaged, ensuring they give correct answers and have a national language capability.

“If the bot is not built in properly and is giving wrong responses it can easily be trolled,” said GupShup’s Sheth.

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