With chatbots, droids, and robots everywhere how do you still make things sound personal? I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve watched all of them. The originals (the best ones, obviously) to the second trilogy to the most recent movies and even the spin-offs. In most of the movies, there’s a reoccurring character — C-3PO, protocol droid extraordinaire. He’s awesome at his job, though not so great at reading the room.

C-3PO has a purpose. He’s programmed to serve that purpose. He can translate and he can carry out orders. He can respond during human interaction. However, he doesn’t always get it. C-3PO is a technological advancement that tries to be human, but sometimes you can tell he’s a machine.

“Stay on Target!”

I know what you’re thinking, what in the world does this have to do with digital marketing?

For the past few years, digital marketing has trended toward becoming more personal. It’s now about making your clients and potential clients feel special. There are little things, like having their name appear in emails and tracking their purchase history so you can remind them when it’s time to reorder.

Then there are big things, like being there 24/7. For small businesses, that’s a tough thing to do. Small business owners are already killing themselves and usually, they don’t have the budget to hire someone to watch the phones day and night. Still, the sales need to be made and competition is fierce, which is why more and more are turning to chatbots.

The idea behind the chatbot is great. There’s a robot ready, willing and able to talk to your potential client day and night. That robot is likely dressed up with a fake name like “Jennifer” or “Richard” and given a fake profile picture. The robot will happily greet each and every client that visits your website, offering to answer any questions the visitor might have.

“It’s a Trap!”

The idea for this blog post came to me after talking to Jason about a recent conversation between himself and a chatbot who was apparently filling in under his boss’s name. It went something like this:

Jason: I just wanted to thank you your way for recently connecting with me. I look forward to seeing some of your posts and keeping in touch.

Chatbot in Disguise: Likewise. How are you doing today?

Jason: (thumbs up sign)

Chatbot in Disguise: Can you please help me. (Note the improper use of punctuation.)

Jason: I will try, what’s up?

Chatbot in Disguise: Dear Jason, if you are having any projects…then we can do it as we are having a great team to work on it and it will be a great help for our business.

Jason: I don’t have any of that stuff going on right now, but I will keep you in mind.

Chatbot in Disguise: Sounds good. Share your website name.

Jason: www.intentionallyinspirational.com

Chatbot in Disguise: Your website redesign and digital promotion.

Jason: I am a digital marketing company, so…

Chatbot in Disguise: Oh, great. Share your outsourcing project.

Jason: Well, I have a team of my own so they help with all our projects.

Chatbot in Disguise: That’s great. Share your email and WhatsApp no.

While the conversation started out well enough and seemed real, it soon started to deteriorate into a baffling exchange of words.

“No Reward is Worth This”

Now take the conversation above and pretend that it’s something that’s happening with your business on your website. Do you think the potential customer is going to stick around to wait until he gets to talk to a real person or do you think he’s headed off to another site without an out of touch chatbot?

Here’s the thing about chatbots. No one pats you on the back if they’re good. Everyone abandons ship if they’re bad. A conversation with a bad chatbot can actually drive people away, doing the exact opposite of what it’s meant to do.

“You Have Your Moments. Not Many, But You Have Them”

Despite what it sounds like, I’m not telling you to skip chatbots as a way of marketing to your customers. I’m just saying, proceed with caution.

Before you choose a chatbot company, determine if it really fits your specific needs. The most expensive platform isn’t always the best one for your company. It may be that you need a complex system, or it may be that you need something basic. Determine what you need the chatbot to do before you go shopping for a company.

Make sure the chatbot is within your budget before you sign on. How much are you willing to spend? More importantly, will the ROI be worth it?

And once you’ve narrowed it down to a few companies, read the reviews from other business owners. Are there any red flags? Any concerns that you need to be aware of?

Finally, test the system out before you purchase. Have an actual conversation with the chatbot. Does it sound human enough? Does it serve its purpose? When you finish the conversation, do you feel satisfied or annoyed?

While I have never chatted with C-3PO, I imagine the conversation would be satisfying enough. I would ultimately get the answers I was looking for, which is after all, in his programming.

Written by Erika Towne