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Technology Pret a Manger

How a food chain, retailer, drinks giant and luxury hotel have harnessed chatbots this Christmas


By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

December 19, 2016 | 8 min read

Brands including Pret a Manger, Notonthehighstreet, Pernod Ricard and Mondrian London tell The Drum why they’ve backed chatbots this Christmas.

FB bot

How brand are using Chatbots this Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it’s also one where businesses of all kinds will be inundated with customers needing extra help. In the past, brands have managed this wave of new businesses by simply bringing in more staff. But this year, they’ve had a new tool at their disposal – chatbots – and have been using it in a variety of ways to better connect with time-starved customers.

However, it was only really eight months ago that Facebook opened up the technology. For that reason, only a few brands have dipped a cautious toe into the water when it comes to chatbots. Although the fact that they are doing so at a critical time in the calendar is testament to the value they believe it could hold for the future.

The gift-giver

With Christmas one of its key trading periods, online marketplace Notonthehighstreet is well versed in making sure it’s prepared to help stressed out customers in need of advice. It already had a call centre and a Live Chat feature on its site but this year decided to build a Facebook Messenger bot that would serve up some inspirational gifting ideas.

“A lot of people don’t like coming through on the phone and we know that customers like to have inspiration and like to go through a discovery process to get the product right for the person they’re buying for, especially during Christmas,” the brand’s customer director Hannah Webley-Smith recently told The Drum.

The bot is tied into Notonthehighstreet’s elf-fronted above-the-line campaign. Within Messenger, the ‘Elf’ will ask the user to answer a few basic questions about the intended recipient. Then a carousel of products which might suit pop up and the user can scroll though, click on one to go to the website, or ask for another list of products to be displayed.

Webley-Smith said the service's uptake over Christmas will determine if it keeps the bot running throughout 2017. Given that Notonthehighstreet is trying to align its brand to more than just the big gifting occasions like Christmas, this could help it make the shift.

The waiter

Like Notonthehighstreet, Pret a Manger has a broad spectrum of customers with varying needs. The sandwich chain prides itself of making fresh food but realised that it could use Facebook's bot technology to help customers find out more about the menu without then having to corner rushed staff during the Christmas period.

The bot allows people to explore the new Christmas menu, ask questions about ingredients and delve further into Pret’s charity scheme, which sees 50p of profits made on some sandwiches donated.

“We’re encouraged with what we’re seeing so far. It’s a really immersive experience for customers,” said Anthony Leung, social media manager at the sandwich chain. “People are really using it to discover more [about the brand].”

The brand's trial has been buoyed by some of the statistics already coming out: people are averaging four minutes in the chatbot and each user averages 10 messages.

With Facebook’s aggressive move to bring more e-commerce functionality onto the platform this could also open up the potential use-cases for brands such as Pret, which currently has no click-and-collect system like Starbucks. However Leung played down that it would be a sales driver in future: “That's not the job for social media. Social media is a way to connect with the values of the brand and [explore] our products. The bot has done that job really well."

The bar tender

Unlike most brands using chatbots this Christmas, drinks giant Pernod Ricard doesn’t have the same direct-to-consumer relationship so it sought to provide a service that was more than just information on alcohol. The ‘Cocktail Coach’ is essentially an AI bartender that can offer recipes and mixing instructions for people looking to get creative with their drinks when hosting throughout the festive period.

In addition to recommending cocktails based on taste preferences, type and size of event, the chatbot will also direct users to online supermarket Ocado where they can purchase the ingredients.

“Christmas is the perfect time to launch this world first chatbot as our own recent research confirms that from the shopper’s perspective, Christmas is a time when they are more inclined to indulge friends and family with extra special moments which includes treating themselves with cocktails. This is why we wanted to create a simple solution that enables them to do this from the comfort of their own home,” explained Patrick Venning, marketing director of Pernod Ricard UK.

“The benefit of the chatbot is that it allows us to interact with shoppers in a completely different environment, giving us live feedback which is incredibly useful. Tools like this allow us to adapt and evolve to smartly answer consumer needs for the future. The technology could be good for situations particularly when consumers need instant advice or inspiration pre-purchase, which is why cocktail making felt like a very natural fit. But it could be equally useful for situations like food and wine matching, where what can feel like complicated decisions can be made easy.”

The brand plans to assess the performance after the Christmas period to determine how, and if similar technology can support the ever evolving shopper journey.

The concierge

Luxury hotel Mondrian London this year worked with Ogilvy to create a chatbot that would be able to help guests with simple requests or booking. From the outset guests are invited to specify what it is they are looking to do; Dining, Drinking or Staying? From here they navigate their way through either a booking process, or alternatively they can browse room options and menus from the hotel’s various bars and restaurants.

It also added options such as ‘Wow Me’ that the chatbot uses to make drink suggestions to guests who are considering making a booking at any of the bars

“Our vision for the bot centred on functionality and creativity so that guests felt it was both useful and entertaining,” explained a spokesperson for the brand. “People are spending more and more time in their messaging apps - and we need to be able to cater to that and in turn capitalise on any new and innovative channels available to connect with customers.”

Feedback from early participants has been “fantastic”: “Not only have guests really interacted with the Chatbot at Mondrian London, they have also been forthcoming in providing both positive feedback,” it said.

The brand is now monitoring the conversations and improving as it goes to ensure our content remains current. It also has a number of new features that will be rolled out into the New Year. “For us, the Mondrian London Assistant isn't a one trick pony, but rather a progressive project.”

Christmas, then, has been a crucial test bed for how brand will use chatbots in the coming year. While measuring, or even defining, success is still a challenge it's clear that the medium will continue to grow in strength in 2017.

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