CANNES, FRANCE–This year at Cannes, we’re seeing an influx of new categories that speak to touchpoints and new technology that enable brands to reach people, end-to-end, across the consumer journey. Voice, branded games, AR, VR, new commerce experiences and more continue to shape the way people interact with the world.

Voice continues to lead much of the buzz, but there is a dark horse in the pack: messaging chatbots. There’s been ample discussion already this week at Cannes around how creativity is converging with modern technologies like chatbots, growing the opportunity for personalized consumer experiences; IBM even launched an interactive experience at the festival this year for Cannes-goers to create their own chatbots to share their personal expectations for technology.

Messaging chatbots’ ability to deliver accurate personalization, interactive information and immediate action all in one place will transform how brands and consumers communicate with each other. They have existed for some time now (the Cannes Lions archive shows that the first entry featuring a chatbot dates back to 2003), and they are relatively easy to set up, but they have not been a slam dunk for brands – yet.

While chatbots are delivering big benefits for company operations, many are falling short of their potential to drive meaningful conversations. Insight into what consumers ultimately want from a chatbot experience is key to navigating this space successfully as it continues to evolve. Here are some rules for the road:

Get a (Conversation) Makeover

For people who find the online search process overwhelming, chatbots can help narrow down infinite options. Their ability to streamline complex topics or multiple options gives chatbots the opportunity to build new relationships with disengaged and overwhelmed consumers. That said, it’s important for brands to be weary of basic tech glitches that give consumers the runaround and erode trust in the experience as quickly as it’s built.

To reconnect with detached consumers, use chatbot functionality to reduce choice, connect with personal preferences, and simplify confusing or complex topics associated with your brand.

Set Expectations for Chatbots in Customer Service

When it comes to simple customer service questions, many users would rather take a chance on getting an immediate but possibly incomplete answer from a chatbot than wait on hold for a human. But, this isn’t a rallying cry to do away with all human support. While chatbots are better at triage management and FAQ’s, they fall short in situations when out-of-the-box thinking or empathy is needed.  In these moments, there just isn’t a replacement for a human being.

Setting the right expectations for what a chatbot can solve for in customer service is important. As the tech stands today, focusing on triage management (sorting, solving, escalating issues) is the right role for chatbot customer service. Ultimately a seamless hybrid model that takes the best of bot and human is the goal.

Help Consumers Overcome Analysis Paralysis

Shopping online can quickly shift from efficient to paralyzing if consumers don’t know what they’re looking for. We’ve all been there. Overwhelmed by too many options, it is easy to become stuck online for hours without placing an order. Shoppers are drawn to the idea of chatbots helping them overcome this analysis paralysis by acting like a highly knowledgeable sales assistant who is available 24/7 to answer questions, clarify doubts, and offer recommendations.

Adding conversation like this to the e-shopping process enables chatbots to learn more about a shopper’s intent and build more relevant interactions. Covergirl’s “KalaniBot”  drove brand loyalty and helped consumers determine what products to buy by guiding users through a rich experience focused on beauty and sharing trustworthy advice –a strong example of how a chatbot can play a key role in driving sales through personalized support. This kind of support process has largely been left out of e-commerce to-date.

Having this kind of one-to-one interaction is a real upside for brands to learn more about their consumer’s intent enabling richer shopping experiences. But, ensure this experience is more than a link to your website as consumers will question the need for a chatbot in the first place if it doesn’t add additional value.

Watch the Hype

Despite the chatbot experience being a work in progress, we’ve found chatbots are holding their own against more established digital mediums. In fact, chatbots that were perceived as fun, easy to use and helpful drove significant increases in brand preference metrics compared to mobile websites and apps. While chatbots aren’t replacing website and apps anytime soon, they are getting a thumb’s up from consumers when it comes to helping with friction-free interactions that help guide decision-making.

Brands across nearly every category have begun to dabble in the chatbot space, but those that have done it successfully have found the right intersection of technology, creativity, and utility through a deliberate combination of both human and bot attributes, to engage consumers in personalized ways to deliver positive ROI.

As chatbots are poised to improve quickly with increasing investment in NLP and AI, timing and right-sizing your investment in a new medium like chatbots will be critical. If it’s not on your roadmap to assess when it’s right to experiment or scale, it should be.

This article originally appeared in MediaPost

 Author: Amy Hunt, VP, Director of Data Sciences, Publicis Media