The chatbots are coming

CR investigates what it takes to create a good chatbot, and why they could become an essential part of brand comms in our current culture of immediacy

There’s few things more irritating than trying to find where a company has hidden its customer service details. Not everyone is guilty of it, but plenty of brands ensure that contact emails and phone numbers are buried deep in the bowels of their sites, accessible to only the most determined of seekers.

Customer service isn’t the sexiest part of branding, but it is hugely important. As Andy Wilkins, CEO of chatbot provider Futr, points out, people are becoming ever-more impatient when it comes to their transactions. “We talk to brands about this culture of immediacy, that they’re very aware of,” he told CR. “People are looking for things, and when they want them, they want them right away.”

Futr was set up four years ago, when Wilkins says there was a huge rise in people using messaging channels to communicate. The idea was to build a business that would use these same channels to open up access to products and services – for brands, as well as public services and charities.

One of Futr’s chatbots, handling text message questions for a local council

“There was a big push from the government from their communications department on how government departments should communicate with citizens – and it was all part of a push of getting in touch with people, and communicating with them on their own terms,” explains Wilkins.

Futr’s hunch was spot on, and since its launch the company has partnered with various companies, including the police and local councils – who use its chatbots for things like answering questions about bin day. It’s worked with several charities, including Bipolar UK, which fields a few hundred queries each day using a chatbot that helps direct people to the right information. Wilkins says companies are also using chatbots internally, allowing staff to get quick answers to queries about parental leave, or request holiday.