Lets Talk About It

Chatbots. We’ve all heard about them and most likely interacted with some in the past. Seems like nothing new then right? But actually, there’s plenty of new news. Because once everyone starts using something, companies have to find a way to make their use of it stand out. Businesses push each other to constantly improve their features and tools and as such, companies have been finding unique ways to integrate bots. To highlight the versatility of chatbots and the distinctive ways they can be adapted to fit a company, I found a few that are relying heavily on the use of chatbot technology to succeed.

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One app, called Penny, is a personal finance app that helps you spend smarter and save more. Now I know we’ve already talked about a personal finance app when we heard Lindsay Sutton talk about Twine. However, Lindsay mentioned how the emphasis of that app is on investing and saving with a significant other. We even saw some of the ads that John Hancock is using to market the app and how they try to draw in couples specifically. But there are plenty of other customers out there that may not be at that stage in life where they are looking to save for a vacation for two but might still want a personal finance coach for their little goals. Penny appeals to them with its use of a chatbot interface to create a more natural budgeting experience. The app follows a process where the user feels like they having real conversations with a coach and even incorporates jokes. In this way, it eliminates the scary nature that is associated with money talks and pushes informed financial decisions into their everyday lives. The conversations are all in the app but resemble a standard text conversation. It also provides easy to understand charts and graphs. We have come a long way with chatbots and this app is a great example of a way a company has personalized the experience to lure a specific group of young customers.

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The app was created in 2015 and since then, has been empowering users. A friend who has been using the app for almost a year now told me how she felt the app made financial planning seem simple. When she graduated college and started her first job in New York City, she felt she needed help managing her spending because New York City can really take all your money in the blink of an eye. Penny forced her to be mindful during this new stage of her life. She really appreciates the motivational messages she gets from the app when she has stayed within her spending goals and the friendly reminders that let her know how much is left of her budget in order to stay on track. Each notification shows up like a quick text as if a coach was actually checking in and helping you make purchase decisions. Obviously, users are well aware these messages are coming from an automated robot but the personalized nature makes it seem less robotic and allows the users to really connect. Nonetheless, my friend did also mention that there are still some downsides to this app. There are times where you have to go through the formalities of a conversation just to find out one thing. In those times, you are reminded that it is nothing more than an automated process. For example, finding a chart of her monthly food spending requires two or three conversational responses before completing this simple request. This means the technology still has some room for improvement in order to make the process entirely seamless but it is clearly on its way. (It is important to note that Credit Karma recently bought Penny and will be integrating the technology into their platform to provide these features for their customers but it has not happened yet).

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Another company that has taken this chat approach and applied it to their customer service and selling process is Dirty Lemon. This brand sells beverages designed to improve consumers’ everyday lives. These specialty beverages contain natural ingredients that address different wellness trends. One example is their collagen drink, which is formulated to hydrate skin, increase elasticity, reduce wrinkles and trigger new collagen production. The other options address trends like improved digestion, improved metabolism, natural energy, better sleep and less stress. Despite the unique ingredient blends and health promises, the most distinctive part of this company is their ordering system. It is challenging the way we see retail. Customers only use the website during their first purchase to enter their delivery and payment preferences and afterward, order strictly via text. This text message-based payment and customer service platform was developed by Dirty Lemon founder Zak Normandin and has really added a new appeal to his company. Customers simply text their orders or questions to the Dirty Lemon number and receive a confirmation or response back. It is incredibly convenient. They don’t need to visit the website, add to their cart or go through entering delivery and payment information each time. It’s a whole new twist to online shopping. You could order your drinks while walking to work in the morning and not waste more than a minute. It also decreases the chance of putting something in your cart only to never buy it. They have even added emojis to their automated messages for a special touch. With this company, conversational language is used in every interaction from both ends. You can text the number in a completely informal manner and still receive the response you need. As opposed to Penny which still requires a sort of process when looking for a specific response, Dirty Lemon is facilitating customer service and getting you straight to what you are looking for, removing any friction points. Normandin believes the future of commerce is conversation based but after observing how many different ways this conversation based technology can be used, it seems it won’t just apply to retail. It will be interesting to see how other industries successfully integrate automated but natural like conversations into their core business.

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8 comments

  1. Wonderful post, Jenny! I have never thought about chatbot’s further development for a business purpose like this, as I am only familiar with the unwanted automated spam chatbots from promotions. However, these two businesses seem to have implemented it quite successfully, and it’s fascinating to hear the upgrades they are continuously working on to improve the service. For industries such as financial planning or retail, a personal touch is very important (as there are financial advisors and sales reps in physical stores), and both Penny and Dirty Lemon were able to capture that very wisely.

    My guess is that they further developed this chatbot-based ordering and financial advising system by making an extensive list of possible inputs/texts that users may say for an inquiry to provide the right response each time. This can range from a simple spelling mistake to a colloquial slang a user may use for his/her convenience. If that’s the case (correct me if I am wrong), I wonder if there can be an exhaustive list of every possible error or way of asking/saying things via text. As you mention that such system is good for convenience, people can easily go from a place to another without thinking much before sending the text message. It is easy to make a spelling mistake when you are in a hurry, and in the case of the spelling mistake where the system did not expect from the developers side, I wonder how they will be able to provide almost a no-error, sustainable service with chatbots. Of course, they can display an automated message “sorry I did not understand, can you repeat,” but I wonder if the developers can catch it all. There are countless ways of asking the same question, and the possibilities of error causes are endless. If they somehow have a better way of resolving this issue, I believe it’s a fantastic implementation of chatbots!

  2. I absolutely love the implementation of chatbots while ordering goods on your phone. In my own personal experience I have never used a chatbot as sophisticated Dirty Lemon’s so it is refreshing to see that this technology is moving in the right direction. To address the concerns raised in @jobabes121 I think that as technology such as machine learning advances and is implemented into software such as chatbots that the issues of spelling mistakes and automated cookie-cutter messages will no longer be an issue. Within the next few years AI will be able to understand and interpret spelling mistakes as more data is collecting on consumer’s texting patterns.

    I would love to see companies such as Starbucks and Amazon take on this technology in their own business models. As chatbots become more advanced the possibilities for its use are endless, I could see myself texting a chatbot for service in a number of industries like fast food restaurants along with everyday online shopping. Great post Jenny!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and it really hi-lites some of my biggest praises and apprehensions about bots as intermediaries for companies. The ability for a bot to come off more endearingly personal is valuable for these companies and can make us feel more at ease, but soon it seems we won’t be able to tell whether it is in fact a bot or a real individual. From there, I see an issue with companies not outrightly disclosing whether or not the communication that customers interface with is generated by a person or AI. We are inherently more trusting of those who we can identify with at a personal level (key distinction is person, not bot). What happens when we start entrusting information to bots that we might assume aren’t bots at all, but real people? Will our values regarding data security and privacy of information change once we know a conscientious person isn’t on the other side? All that being said, these companies seem to be leveraging this technology in a way that is not too invasive and helps their bottom line; Im anxious to see where this bot trend leads.

  4. Awesome post Jenny! I think chatbots are so interesting because of their ability to be used in most industries. I can see them being implemented in any industry that utilizes any sort of customer service. In terms of spelling mistakes or use of slang as @jobabes121 highlights, I have seen a solution used at times where the interaction is more guided, prompting you to select things rather than typing what you want. I can see how this runs the risk of being less personal or having to jump through a lot of hoops to get to what you eventually want. I am also intrigued by @roarkword points about the line between disclosing if it is a human or a bot. I think people are already pretty comfortable with bots and it does not seem to be too invasive, but I can also see the limitations, as many people, especially in older generations, may prefer to talk to a person. In addition, what if the bot is not able to answer or accomplish what the user needs? It will be interesting to see the pattern bots go through as we move towards using them more. There will clearly need to be a point where there are bots and customer service, but I wonder what the future looks like? Could there be only bots, completely eliminating customer service reps and opening them up for other jobs?

  5. I enjoyed your post and it made me think back to what I believe was my first experience with chatbots…SmarterChild on AIM. As middle-schoolers I’m pretty sure we did nothing but mess with it by asking stupid questions to see what snarky responses would come back. Reading about SmarterChild now it seems like it may have had some actual value at the time: from weather, to movie times, to sports scores, and more. But as your post highlights, chatbots have come a long way since those days.
    Today most of my exposure to chatbots is via customer service live chats for various services/products. I’m all for these as they offer 24/7 support and have almost always solved my problems quickly. I would guess most people below the age of ~40 are comfortable interacting with chatbots. However, below is a link to an interview with the Director of Customer Service for Zappos, who has the perspective of AI being bad for customer service. With the increase emphasis and reliance on AI in business, I’m sure chatbots, and their applications, will continue to grow.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2017/03/23/customers-lose-if-chatbots-win-says-zappos-customer-service-expert/#1861f05c6087

  6. Great post. I’ve been fascinated by the rise of chatbots and will be interested to see how they continue to develop.

  7. Great post! Whats fascinating is to see how chat bots have evolved in the last +15 years. Something similar to the Dirty Lemon chat bot is the creation of “Tess.” Used exactly how you would use Dirty Lemon, Silicon Valley startup X2AI developed this AI to deliver personalized therapy to aid those dealing with mental health needs. The bot is designed to carry a conversation rather than be a response generated program. While its definitely fascinating & innovative on so many levels, its scary to think that somewhere down the road, what we think is a human interaction may actually be AI in disguise.

  8. Nice topic as chatbots are all the rage now as a way to bring a customer along the buyer journey faster. It’s an excellent element to get people results faster with less hassle. A gem in the go-go society.

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