Pursue automation, but don’t lose the personal touch

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One of the big marketing trends is towards automation. Ads that display in Google search results or on social media as soon as somebody visits a company’s website, canned emails that trigger when somebody buys a product, and AI chatbots that answer customer enquiries in place of customer service staff.

Automated marketing techniques like these hold massive potential to create efficiencies and to follow up on more leads and opportunities. But what is often lost is the personal touch.

It’s one thing to be constantly tapping your customers on the shoulder and following them around the internet as they browse. But are your marketing efforts really converting?

If they are done badly, automated emails can do more damage than good. You may be providing immediate follow up, which is usually a good thing. But a badly written automated message can make a customer feel like just another number and drive them away.

If you’re going to automate messages then make sure they at least feel a little bit personal. Address the customer by their name and write your messages in conversational and non-corporate language.

Stay on target

When it comes to Google advertising and remarketing efforts on social media, it’s important to make sure your ads are well-targeted.

It’s good to be reaching a lot of people, but if the ads that are popping up are irrelevant or your audience is seeing the same ads over and over again, they can have a negative effect.

What’s more, it’s not always enough to be reaching people who have visited your website with a purely generic ad.

To really convert, you often need to reach them with advertising that promotes the precise product or service they are interested in, at the right point in time.

The use of AI chatbots to drive sales and answer customer enquiries is another relatively recent development. Air New Zealand uses a chatbot called Oscar to answer many common questions and ACC has introduced its own bot, named Jules, to respond to ACC invoice inquiries.

I’ve personally seen the difference “old fashioned” live text chat can make for clients when it has been introduced on their websites.

I’ve seen it single-handedly drive thousands of dollars of revenue per month as customers are able to have their questions answered immediately, while they are in the mood to buy, rather than waiting to get a response to an email the next day when they have already bought elsewhere or their mood has passed.

The evolution of this technology into automated form, often backed by artificial intelligence, holds a lot of potential, once it has gone through the learning process and answers have been developed for a wide array of customer questions.

However, in its current form, I’ve often found the answers provided by AI
chatbots to be unhelpful or frustratingly off the mark.

For example, while writing this column I had the following exchange with Air New Zealand’s chat bot, Oscar:

Me: “Are there any flights to Queenstown tomorrow?”

Oscar: “Do you know the flight number? It is a two letter airline code followed by a number.”

Me: “No”

Oscar: “Sorry, I wish I could look into this further for you. There’s a flight information tool on our website…”

To his credit, Oscar did point me in the right direction, but the level of service is far lower than what I would hope for if I was dealing with a real person.

The key takeaway from all of this is to remember that many of the messages people automate these days are the first interaction a potential customer has with their business and brand.

If you blow that first impression, customers won’t always give you a second chance.

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James Heffield
James Heffield
Director of Bay of Plenty marketing and public relations consultancy Last Word. To find out more visit www.lastwordmedia.co.nz or email james@lastwordmedia.co.nz.

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