Could Email Be The Next Chatbot?

It's always interesting to talk with someone more active outside your region whom you might not have otherwise bumped into, had it not been Advertising Week in London this week. One discussion that I had yesterday got me thinking about how email could evolve to be far more useful in two very different ways.

Regular readers may recall this isn't the place to come to read about how great chat bots are -- certainly not based on current technology. Perhaps there may be some promise, but whenever I "chat" to a "chatbot" I can't help but feel that all I'm getting back is search results. Try an airline chatbot, for example, and you'll simply find that any enquiry about baggage allowance or check-in zones just comes back with a list of potential links to click on for further information -- stuff you could have Googled.

This must leave customers feeling a little deflated, like me, so it was interesting to hear that email tech vendor and service provider Acqueon has been working with clients in Asia -- and to a lesser extent, the United States -- to see whether email could perform a similar role. A typical scenario being envisaged right now is repeat prescriptions. A customer might email a doctor's office to say they are going away, asking whether they can have their pills sent this week before their trip. Rather than get into a long exchange of emails or any phone call, the request could then get an automated response that the order was in hand.

A favourite of mine, and we're back to airlines, would be for the booking confirmation email to be smarter. Instead of "no response" addresses, what about a service which tells you what size a carry-on bag can go up to when you email back "how big can my bag be?". What about an email address you could type in a request, such as "can I add an extra ticket" or "how much to upgrade" and you get a response with a button to click "yes." All of this can be automated, and it could do for consumers what chatbots are supposed to be doing.

It's not live in the EU yet, but Acqueon claims that conversations are at an advanced stage to offer such a service in the EU. One UK telecom brand is pretty advanced in discussions, it says.

The same goes for the second interesting part of the conversation, a pretty smart way of boosting email engagement by 60% via mobile sign-ups. Instead of just saying text "offer" or some other word to a SMS code, an alternative is to ask for an email address to be texted into the code shown on an ad. This means that not only can a brochure or sales information be emailed to the consumer, but the brand has a number that it can text, with permission. That means the first, and then future, pieces of communication can be flagged up via SMS.

The company claims that getting an SMS to forewarn that the next season's catalogue has just been emailed over, or an invite to a launch of a new car at your nearest showroom, boosts engagement by 60%. It helps the email stand out in a crowded inbox because it feels less unsolicited and has not arrived out of the blue.

Of the two developments, I have to say I am more intrigued by the possibilities of branded email turning into a customer service chatbot. The vendor is confident that the technology will begit to be used in the EU -- particularly in the UK, because Brexit is prompting companies to try to do more with less, and so an automated assistant could be very useful.

So watch this space -- the "no response" and "do not reply" broadcast addresses could soon begin to do the very opposite and encourage simple requests to be emailed over and dealt with automatically.

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