The ever-expanding chatbot: how bots help brands  

Viber etienne-dupont
Etienne Dupont
Senior Director of Global Sales & B2B Marketing at Rakuten Viber
The ever-expanding chatbot: how bots help brands

Chatbots are great news for customers and businesses alike. They let businesses offer around-the-clock support without the costs that come with human agents, but they are not about replacing humans altogether. Rather, they free up the human service agents to deal with more complex customer care needs, by handling the routine issues: the low-hanging fruit that comprise a majority of customer enquiries. And customers love their always-on, quick-to-reach nature – it means no more being kept on hold while you wait for a human agent to answer the phone.

But what exactly is a chatbot? And how does Viber let brands leverage them to maximum effect?

The many uses of a chatbot

A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through text chats, voice commands or both. They are essentially robots that let brands have one-to-one conversations with their customers through our messaging channel – users can communicate with a chatbot as easily as if they were chatting with a friend or relative. A successful chatbot should have an easygoing, conversational nature that’s user-friendly and easy to understand.

At Viber, we started using chatbots at the end of 2016. Since then, the functionality has grown and grown.

We now let brands customise their keyboards for their users, depending on what use case is presented. For example, when selecting a language, instead of manually typing in “English” using a QWERTY keyboard, or even selecting it from a tedious list, the brand can present the user with a series of flags. Tap the Union Jack, and hey presto, you’ll see all text in British English. Not only is it more appealing visually, and quicker to enable conversation with the chatbot, it’s also universal across all languages – everyone will recognise a flag.

Chatbots on Viber can use many different kinds of message formats to interact with users – this includes text, images, urls, videos, rich media carousels, gifs, stickers, contact cards, localisation cards and buttons. This means brands can use the full suite of messaging tools to forge and maintain stronger relationships with their customers. It lets them add more gamification, more automatic presets, to facilitate the conversation, which is a lot more engaging than your typical customer support channel. This is especially useful for informative bots specialising in areas like news. For example, we have a partnership with the WHO to send out updates about Covid, and by using a chatbot, the organisation can use all different message formats to convey this vital information to users.

But it’s also useful for other uses too, like sending out recipes, tickets, polls, games, and so on.

Improving customer care

Of course, their use extends beyond these use cases. Using our API, brands can connect their chatbots to their CRM systems in order to improve customer service. This can let them see a user’s engagement history with the brand, say, so they’ll know if it’s a new client or an existing one. They can also customise the level of discussion with each client – by tailoring the response, you will directly meet each individual customer’s needs, rather than asking each customer the same – often irrelevant – questions. 

One aspect we take very seriously is user privacy. Users have to subscribe to chatbots in order to receive messages from them – it is always the users initiating the interaction, rather than the brands. Chatbots are searchable on Viber, to help users find relevant ones, and we showcase certain bots to help surface extra content. We want to help customers find what they need, and not let companies spam them with irrelevant promotions.

When to use a chatbot

Chatbots exist side-by-side with our Business Messaging proposition. That doesn’t mean brands have to choose between Business Messaging or bots. It depends on what goal they are trying to achieve with Viber. If you just want to send informative messages to clients for transactional or promotional purposes – to basically replace what you were sending with SMS – our Business Messaging channels will do the job perfectly. But if you want to have a more meaningful and immersive experience, to go further than just sending messages, then the bot is a better solution. 

For example, some of our banking partners use chatbots to take customers through the authentication process, and then to send them info like their account balance. In this way, the chatbot can replace a separate feature you would normally get from the bank’s own app. Because the messaging ecosystem has become so big, it’s now a very strong entry point for brands – they realise that it’s a smaller ask for customers to converse with them through a messaging app they already use than it is to convince them to download their own, rather limited, banking app. Who really needs another app on their phone? Especially one with such limited functionality.

Viber is not the only messaging app to let brands use chatbots, but our API is more flexible in terms of what the brands can do, and the level of customisation it gives them. Some of our competitors don’t let you customise the keyboard or the user support, and they only let you communicate with text – it’s very transactional and only built for very few user scenarios. It’s very restrictive. It’s a very off-the-shelf solution, whereas ours is tailor-made, like a Saville Row suit. A lot of our clients comment on it. They love the level of customisation it gives them.