Chatbot Advice for E-Retailers

Bill Colleran, AnswerDash CEO interviews Bart Mroz, Head of Brand Experience at SUMO Heavy Industries, a digital ecommence consulting firm.

I recently connected with Bart Mroz, Head of Brand Experience at SUMO Heavy Industries to hear his insights and learn what trends he predicts for chatbots. Check out the interview to see what you can apply to your business! 

Bill: Why don’t you give me a little on your background and how you came to be involved with chatbots?

Bart: I’ve been running SUMO Heavy, a digital commerce consulting firm, for almost seven years. We started as a development shop, but we’re now on the e-commerce business strategy side. We help our clients become more efficient and profitable across the board by staying on top of changes in consumer behavior and the latest technology.

Chatbots have become very popular in the e-commerce space and we have clients looking at it from many different perspectives. There’s certainly a place for chatbots but it’s still  too early to tell what the most impactful use case is. Bots today work well for more objective and factual information delivery.

Bill: When you interact with chatbots, is it typically two thumbs typing? Do you use or prefer some of the more graphical UI that Facebook messenger has been rolling out with or where do you see that evolving?

Bart: It’s always going to be mobile, so it’s going to be two thumbs no matter what. E-commerce, along with everything else, is going mobile. And even on mobile, native app installs are falling so existing messaging apps will play a huge role. Many chatbots are already integrated with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik or even just iMessage.

It’s too early to say how it’ll evolve but there’s clearly opportunity. Many are still used to messaging interactions between actual people but as more people experience chatbots, this notion will change and present many new opportunities for businesses to engage with consumers at scale.

Bill: What are other areas where you see chatbots particularly well suited or particularly poorly suited? So we can think about where it’s going to flourish and where it might take a little bit longer.

Bart: Travel and food are two categories that chatbots are well suited for. I’m always fascinated by the idea of chatbots where you can say “I don’t know where I am going for vacation” and then having that chatbot understand where I like to travel. That take into account the AI and machine learning part of the user experience.

Some people will be wary at first, especially older consumers and those who are overly concerned about privacy, but it’s going to be fine. I’m already getting used to it. It’s going to be the new norm

Bill: We focus a lot on customer support and using chatbots to deliver self-service so that you can engage with the chatbot and get help and not have to escalate to working with a person, which can be slower and for the company it’s more expensive. Do you see chatbots working in the self-service support world? Have you seen examples of that and what are your thoughts on whether that might be one of the areas that takes off or are there some limitations just because of the nature of the interface?

Bart: I don’t think the interface is a limitation; I actually think it’s beneficial. How often do you call a company and get frustrated by touch tone menus and options?  With chatbots, you simply type your response and it learns each person’s needs. It’s a better experience. It’s also better for the business, from a cost savings perspective.

Bill: There are two schools of thought - make it very clear when someone is engaging with a chatbot and when they are engaging with a human - in other words don’t try to fool them into thinking the chatbot is human make it clear, but make it smooth. SMOOTH but clear. Is that what you think is the right approach?

Bart: Absolutely, clear during the automated part of the engagement and a smooth transition when the experience is escalated to an actual person. But I haven’t seen many companies pull this off just yet. Again, it’s still early but that would definitely be the type of user experience that people are increasingly moving toward.

Bill: What are the handful of things people need to keep in mind if they are going to be successful when implementing a bot for support or anything else?

Bart: Don’t just jump into it. Test it and make sure it works. E-commerce bots can be especially tricky. E-commerce businesses should first start with support or recommendation type bots and progress from there. And test, test and test to see where it’s going. There’s still time for chatbots to mature a bit. Payment-enabled chatbots and utility bots, like virtual assistant, are both interesting concepts as well.

Bill: What about using chatbots for internal company communications? You mentioned Slack and having a bot in slack. My thought is let’s say we stand up a bot and this is in the line of self-service support, and the HR department sets it up at a large enterprise. Now I can engage with a bot and get all sorts of questions about benefits or answers to “Where do I get forms for this?” or “What are the policies on that?”. Same could hold for the travel department or IT department. Have you seen a lot of people using bots for company internal communication and is that something maybe moving a little bit faster because it is less risk?

Bart: This definitely holds true in a platform like Slack because it’s so bot heavy. We play with that sort of stuff all the time. Bots for internal company communications would be fantastic, especially in larger companies. Why would you want to look at all this stuff when you can just chat what you need? You can turn off helpdesk or intranet and just use the bot to retrieve info, in areas like HR, accounting and more. Certainly, it would count down on email and such.  

Bill: Thanks for taking the time and sharing your insights, we should reconnect and see where bots are in the coming months

Bart: You’re welcome, happy to discuss anytime

Bart Mroz is the co-founder and CEO of

SUMO Heavy

, a digital commerce consulting and strategy firm. He is a serial entrepreneur who has over a decade of business management and technology experience. Mroz was a founding partner of multiple consulting companies and a thought leader who has been published in top eCommerce publications including Internet Retailer and AdExchanger. Prior to founding SUMO Heavy, Mroz was a partner at round3 media, a creative e-commerce agency, as well as owner and managing director of SimplyHelp, an IT firm based in Philadelphia.