6 Costly Misunderstandings about Chatbots and Amazon Alexa

Retailers are facing a raft of challenges this quarter.

Amazon capturing more than half of total online retail growth, customers spending 88% of their time in only 5 apps, and customer acquisition costs skyrocketing. It’s understandable some are considering selling the farm, and others are quietly fading away. For those still in the fight, ChatBots and conversational commerce channels are a hot topic of debate — it’s difficult to go a single day without stumbling on some kind of new report — and for good reason. But many are feeling concerned about some fundamentals of the platforms, and how they operate.

Misunderstanding #1

If we build a bot, we have to hand over control of our branded Facebook channel to it.

The Truth | You can retain control over your branded Facebook Messenger experience, and be very selective about the interactions you want a bot to handle. You may want to start with a ChatBot only handling returns and exchanges, or with your ChatBot only handling frequently asked questions.

It is up to you — there’s no need to ‘hand the keys’ over and have a ChatBot drive every interaction.

Misunderstanding #2

We can only have 1 ChatBot on our Facebook Messenger channel.

The Truth | While it is advisable to start with one ChatBot, in order to learn and test effectiveness, you can absolutely have more than 1 ChatBot running on your Messenger channel. For example, you can run a ChatBot that handles FAQs and another ChatBot that handles returns and exchanges.

Deploying a ChatBot to Facebook now does not leave you stuck for the future, nor does it mean you need to build or find a ChatBot that handles a wide range of customer scenarios today.

Misunderstanding #3

Our new ChatBot needs to handle all the inquiries that a customer sends our way.

The Truth | Your new ChatBot does not have to handle all kinds of customer inquiries, and it also does not have to handle customers without human assistance. The ChatBots that work best are those which have very specifically defined skill sets, and which are built to be aware of their boundaries.

Facebook Messenger bots can live in harmony with human agents, and indeed with community management platforms like Lithium or Sprinklr. ChatBots that are built well (or deployed through a platform like Linc) have very clear boundaries on what they are capable of doing, and will hand off customers to real people if they see a customer’s message is not within their scope of skills.

For example, a customer asking ‘Can I return my blue shirt’ on Messenger will be handled by a ChatBot who has a returns-management skill set. The ChatBot can look up the customer’s order details, confirm the correct item for return and prepare a shipping label for the customer, in real time and without human intervention. If a customer says ‘I’d like to change my billing details for my order’, a ChatBot that doesn’t cover these kinds of inquiries will hand the customer off to a human agent, who can help the customer as per usual.

Misunderstanding #4

We need to sell our products on Amazon in order to make use of the Alexa platform.

The Truth | This is a common misconception and is holding many retailers back from launching a customer service skill on Alexa. With over 10 million Echo devices in homes today, and another 25 million due to arrive this year, Alexa’s platform represents an emerging channel that consumers are adopting due to its convenience.

The reality of the Alexa platform is that there is absolutely no need to be selling products on Amazon’s marketplace in order to interact with your customers. More importantly, your customers can order directly from you through your branded Alexa skill, without your products being available on Amazon’s marketplace, and without your customer having Amazon Prime.

Misunderstanding #5

If we use Amazon Alexa, Amazon gets our customer data!

The Truth |  In a simple answer: Amazon does not get your customer or order data. While the Alexa platform is touted for its natural voice interactions, and intuitive AI, it is more helpful to think about a comparison with an IVR telephone system. The Alexa is more like a telephone handset, while the intelligence behind the conversation, including order details and customer details, are run on other systems and platforms, separate to Amazon’s infrastructure. In some cases, this may be built from the ground up, or a platform like Linc’s may be used to deliver both the AI intelligence, and the order lookup and handling processes.

Misunderstanding #6 

ChatBots today are an experimental channel, and there is no real ROI to be seen.

The Truth | If you ask around, most folks today see conversational channels as an early-stage, experimental area to consider. But the reality of business is that a channel that falls into that category is pushed to the side, in the interests of addressing more pressing needs and opportunities. Though some uses of ChatBots may be seen as branding experiments, or opportunistic grabs for media attention, there is a very real ROI to be had. Indeed, brands who have already deployed ChatBots for customer service are seeing instant cost reductions that return well beyond their investment. Beyond immediate cost-savings, using intelligent exchanges, recommendations and upsells will deliver in-quarter additional revenue, and reduce return losses.

The Most Costly Assumption

These misunderstanding may delay action, but there is an assumption that could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars — the assumption that it’s going to cost a considerable amount of time and money to even experiment with ChatBots, and that in order to take the first step with conversational channels you need a long term roadmap before taking action.

The Truth | Though it is wise to tread carefully with new customer-facing channels and technology, many leaders are shocked when they learn that there are already platforms available that can deploy a ChatBot and Alexa experience in less than 4 weeks.

Recommendations from analysts today are to start with a specific and narrow set of functionalities, in order to go live and start serving customers with satisfying and valuable experiences.

Linc’s platform has commerce-trained AI, is built specifically for retail customer scenarios and uses pre-built integrations and system-agnostic data connections to avoid the common hurdles and challenges retailers experience when they work on a customer service ChatBot. Linc has helped over a dozen retailers launch Messenger ChatBots and Alexa skills in the last 6 months, and we have provided guidance on best practices while delivering instant cost savings and additional incremental revenue.

You can learn more about conversational commerce by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, JustFab.com and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.

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