The rise of chatbots has been cited as one of the main social media trends of 2016

With Facebook recently announcing that it has enabled payments via bots in Messenger, we can expect to see even more companies getting involved in the new year.

For now, let’s take a look at some of the latest examples to pop up, from three very different UK brands.

Pizza Express

Following on from Domino's and Pizza Hut, Pizza Express is the latest pizza chain to join the chatbot brigade.

It has recently launched a bot as part of its Christmas marketing campaign, allowing restaurant diners to play the 'Dough Baubles' game via Messenger.

By asking the bot to #shakethetree, customers will receive a personalised video along with the chance to win free pizzas as well as the restaurant’s famous dough balls. 

The game has already proved to be popular, with 75,000 people reportedly using it in first two weeks.

Despite the bot mainly being promoted to diners in restaurants by a special code to scan on phones, I was also able to get involved simply by messaging Pizza Express on Facebook.

There's not much to say about it other than that it's a fun bit of marketing - customers are likely to enjoy the light-hearted tone (and chance of a free meal).

For Pizza Express, it is a great way to interact with consumers on social media as well as gain more in-depth data. Apparently, this bot only marks the start of the restaurant using the technology, with the brand also keen to adopt payment via Messenger in future.

Of course, it is one thing to play a game via a chatbot, but will customers be as keen to use it to pay for food? A big stumbling block might be the public's willingness to put their trust in Facebook as a payment service. 

So far, it is unclear how many users have passed on card details via the platform, but with recent controversy over inflated metrics, fake news, as well as a history of privacy issues, it might not be as many as brands might hope. 

However, regardless of whether the social commerce aspect takes off, Pizza Express’s success with #ShakeTheTree still shows that users are keen to use chatbots in different ways – and in different environments.

What’s more, it is also hoping that the technology will help enhance its reputation for customer service, allowing the chain to easily respond to enquiries about opening hours and bookings. 

Channel 4

A few months ago, Channel 4 created a Messenger chatbot to promote the second series of its acclaimed drama Humans.

If you didn’t see the first series, the broadcaster also created an advert suggesting that robotic humans called ‘Synths’ were actually arriving in shops. This time around, its campaign is based around the notion that the Synths are malfunctioning. 

As well as an interview between the real editor-in-chief of the New Scientist and a fictional spokesperson from Persona Synthetics, other activity included placing trucks in cities across the country in pretence of being the “synthetic human collection service” for malfunctioning Synths.

All of this marketing pointed people towards the Persona Synthetics website, where they can chat with Synths over Facebook Messenger.  

Despite the fact that I’ve never even seen Humans before, I decided to check it out, resulting in a rather interesting conversation with ‘Walter’, my chosen Synth. 

And yes, things got weird, with Walter quickly playing up to his creepy robot persona.

Some have suggested that Channel 4’s bot is a little self-indulgent, questioning whether or not the premise will be too confusing to viewers who haven’t seen the show - or a case of overkill for existing fans.

However, I think it’s incredibly well done, and regardless of my awareness of the TV program it's definitely one of the best bots I’ve experienced.

Most chatbots tend to have a limited amount of responses or say fairly basic things, but Walter definitely impressed with his creativity (and ability to tell a joke). That said, the conversation did seem to continue on the designated theme regardless of my responses.

A great example of a chatbot being used for advertising purposes – it shows that the technology doesn’t have to be used purely for customer service.

TFL

Speaking of customer service, Twitter has recently announced the introduction of new chatbot features into its direct messaging service, designed to lure more brands into using it for this purpose.

The features allows brands to set up automatic welcome messages whenever a user starts a conversation, as well as use quick replies to prompt the best ways to reply to a DM.

One company to already get on board is Transport for London.

Now, travellers can instantly check the status of a tube line by clicking ‘check status now’ within a direct message. Even better, travellers can also subscribe to receive alerts, meaning that they’ll automatically be alerted whenever there is problem on the line.

It’s a slick tool, and certainly makes sense for people who already use their phone (and Twitter) to check travel information on a daily basis. It also nicely prompts customers - when you search for a specific tube line, the 'provides support' description indicates the new feature is there.

 

Another positive is that, even if you're talking to a specific line such as the Jubilee, you can also check the status of other lines in the same conversation.

This will certainly be a time-saver for anyone who uses multiple tube lines within a single journey.

As well as creating a seamless customer experience, Twitter’s new bot feature is also an attempt to move conversations away from the public sphere into a private context, allowing for a greater exchange of information between brands and users.

Likewise, with many brands now using Messenger for customer service, it is a strategic attempt from Twitter to catch up with Facebook's progress on bots.

With many more predicted to launch in 2017, it'll certainly be interesting to see where chatbots reign supreme in 2017.

More chat about bots:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 14 December, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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