Navigating the Purchase Path (Mostly) via Chatbot

Madison Reed's mix of human and automated customer service

Author: Tricia Carr

June 26, 2017

An influx of brand marketers have started testing artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots as a means to offer product information and customer service 24/7 through consumers’ smartphones. 

eMarketer’s Tricia Carr spoke with Dave King, CTO at Madison Reed, and Heidi Dorosin, the hair color brand’s CMO, about how it developed its chatbot for SMS and Facebook Messenger to help customers make better purchase decisions.

eMarketer: What led you to test AI and chatbots at Madison Reed?

Dave King: We wanted to use photo recognition to remove that last bit of guesswork for our customers who complete our online Color Advisor survey, which helps them find their best hair color. Rather than look at swatches to identify their current color, we latched onto photo recognition to determine the customer's true current hair color.

When we started testing photo recognition, we realized uploading a photo to our website is not a natural behavior for our customers, but taking a selfie is. Sharing a selfie in a chatbot experience felt like a much more natural experience for an online consultation.

eMarketer: What did you learn once you started redesigning the survey for the chatbot experience?

King: The customer needed a way to get help if the bot couldn’t do everything she wanted. It’s relatively uncommon in the chatbot world to have a conversation go freely between the bot and a live person, but quickly thereafter, we built a live chat integration.

Using AI and the technology that drives the conversation, our bot recognizes if the customer has reached a dead spot in the conversation and recommends speaking to a live colorist. When it flips over, the colorist receives a full transcript of the chatbot session and can continue where the bot left off. The colorist can flip back to the bot when the conversation is done.

Now we're working on a number of post-purchase capabilities. Our chatbot will let the customer know when she has an upcoming subscription that's about to renew. If she's not a subscriber but orders on a regular cadence, the bot tells her when it’s time to color again and can prompt a reorder.

eMarketer: How is the chatbot experience different—and in some cases, an improvement—compared with your ecommerce site or an in-person consultation?

Heidi Dorosin: In today's world where time is a scare resource, consumers don’t have the patience for a call center that’s open 9am to 6pm. The chatbot creates accessibility to our brand anytime, anywhere. It also takes out the human error. The Color Advisor survey relies on your own personal assessment of your color. The [AI] is more scientific, vs. subjective.

Lastly, the role of technology is to eliminate barriers to purchase, which for our business are No.1, she doesn't believe she can find a color that's right for her and No. 2, she doesn't believe she can do it herself. The chatbot is just one of the technologies we’re supplying to address those barriers.

eMarketer: How are you differentiating your chatbot experience from other beauty brand chatbots out there?

King: Many chatbots that have emerged in the beauty marketplace focus on product recommendations. Some bots use photo recognition to let you try on makeup, but at the end of the day, it’s about giving a product recommendation. We offer a full consultation, including tips on how to apply our hair color, FAQs and post-purchase advice. It’s not necessarily just about showing product recommendations and getting [the customer] to make a purchase.

eMarketer: Are you enabling consumers to make a purchase directly through your chatbot?

King: A lot of our chatbot interactions happen through SMS, and that’s not a safe place to send credit card details. In today's version of the chatbot, it sends a first-time customer to our website when she finds her color to complete her transaction. Existing customers who have created an account and saved their payment details can reorder straight from the chatbot. When we remind her that it's time to color again, she can simply respond "yes" or "y" to get her next order.