Chatbot Development Moves Associations Beyond Transaction to Conversation

Getting your members’ attention is hard. Like you, they are busy people, constantly inundated with information, offers and requests.

According to Naylor’s 2018 Association Communications Benchmarking Study, 2 out of 3 association communicators say their members are just too busy to interact with their content. So it’s no surprise that “Combating information overload and cutting through information clutter” came in as associations’ #1 communication challenge.

But what if you’re looking at this problem all wrong?

Flip the MarComm Script

What if you stop clamoring for attention and start focusing on what your members need? Not what you need them to do, but what they actually need in any given moment. You don’t want to be merely a distraction; you want to be a catalyst for change, a partner in professional growth. And THAT requires conversation – dynamic, ongoing, human interaction.

“Okay, Tim, that sounds great, but I’m on a shoestring budget. How am I supposed to keep conversations going with thousands of members? And how do I even know what they want to talk about?”

Good questions. And you’re not alone in asking them. The same 2018 Naylor survey found that, while 84% of association communicators thought they were creating relevant content, and a good number of them were surveying members regularly, only 20% believed they had “a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs.”

If you know me, you know I’m the humanizing tech guy. But sometimes tech can help humanize us, providing organic connections with all kinds of people, all over the world. Chatbots are a great tool for figuring out what people need and giving it to them.

Why Chatbots?

Chatbot buzz is ubiquitous because chatbots are ubiquitous, and that’s exactly what communication professionals crave. You know the age-old marketing dilemma: Just about the time you figure out where your audience is and how to reach them there, they’ve moved on. In 2015, Naylor reported associations were flocking to social media. Guess what? Chatbots Magazine says that’s when people started spending less time on social networks and more time on messaging apps. (e.g., more active users on Messenger than Facebook)

Instant messaging has become our preferred means of communication. It’s immediate, and it’s personal. Two big reasons why chatbots have click-through rates (CTR) ranging from 15% – 60%, while emails languish unopened with an average CTR of 4%. Not only are people taking the time to read what chatbots have to say, they’re actually responding, engaging in dialogue.

Chatbots are an extension of your brand. You can’t be everywhere, answering everyone’s questions, but your chatbots can. Give them personalities that match your organizational culture so they constantly remind your stakeholders of what they love about you and entice prospective members into the fold. Chatbots can be programmed to talk naturally and knowledgeably with all your different audiences.

Here at Mind Over Machines, we have MiltonBot. Originally created for an internal audience, he can help our employees with their timesheet questions and even walk them through creating client estimates. When chatbots are appropriately integrated into your operations, they don’t just talk; they act.

Imagine. Instead of just waiting and hoping a member hits your website to download relevant content in a one-off transaction, your chatbot reaches out to them where they are. It can ask what they’re working on, identify relevant content and delivery preferences, and shoot them what they need however they want to receive it. Your bot can even follow up in a week or so to see how the project turned out.

Building a Chatbot

Your chatbot can be as simple or as complex as you require. It can function off a set of preprogrammed rules, or it can use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to move beyond the script when its conversational partner requires more.

In today’s low-code/no-code development environment, there are plenty of tools to help people of all tech experience levels build a bot. Twilio Studio has a video that walks you through how to build a text-based chatbot from scratch in under 8 minutes. You can add your voice bot to Alexa’s stable of services with Alexa Skill Blueprints. For more complex projects, check out Google’s Dialogflow or Microsoft’s QnA Maker.

My Advice: Don’t get bogged down in the technical details. You need to start with a vision. What is your bot’s purpose? How will it engage your audience? What does it look like? Sketch it all out on paper, a whiteboard, index cards to diagram possible questions and responses. Get creative and strategic first, then get a developer to find the right tool for the chatbot you want to build.

See You at ASAE in Columbus!

We know chatbots will save businesses and consumers time and money, but their real power lies in their ability to augment human interaction. Your association wants to connect, innovate and help your members grow. You have the expertise and the resources; you just need to get them into the hands of the people who need them. Stop shouting into the abyss and start meeting members where they are. Chatbots help you build the personal relationships your organization needs to thrive.

I’ll be at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 10-13. I’m even doing an Express Talk on chatbots Sunday at 12:15pm in Hall AB. If you have an idea for how bots or any other emerging tech can help you connect meaningfully with your members, look me up. I’d love to help you think through the possibilities!

About Tim

Tim Kulp took an unconventional path to his tech career, so it makes sense that his tech career is anything but conventional. A homegrown Maryland boy, Tim has always been captivated by what makes us uniquely human: art, religion, storytelling. These are the things he studied in college before “a series of coincidences led to an accident,” his first IT job.

Now, whether working with startups, global brands, advertisers or healthcare providers, he pushes clients to find the technology that makes them more creative, more productive, more human. As our VP of Innovation & Strategy, he’s known throughout the Mid-Atlantic as the guy who makes tech people-centric.

When Tim isn’t working or spending time with his family, he’s still working. Honing his storytelling craft, mentoring up-and-coming professionals, or reading up on game design and theory. That’s how it is when your job is also your calling. In the era of artificial intelligence, Tim’s crusade to make us more human can’t be confined to business hours.

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