Drop the bot! Stay Human & Bond

A story by Raquel Sodré


The future does not lie in robot! At least not every part of it. Now that I have vented what has been bothering me for the last week, maybe I should rewind and start this story from the beginning.

In 2019, websites from all over the world started installing automated chat boxes that would pop up within five seconds after opening a page. Pretty annoying, I thought. Maybe I was being cranky, maybe I wasn’t the public for whom it was designed, but the fact is that it irritated me.

So the day came when I actually wanted to ask a question in one of those pop-up windows. And guess what? No response! I decided to run a test; I left the windows open and my computer on overnight, just to see how much time it would take the four companies I contacted to reply. Spoiler: I’m still waiting.

Bots invade Instagram Stories

Fast forward to 2020, and what I thought was bad enough in the previous year has reached a new peak. Now, not only do we have to deal with bots on websites and with fake social network profiles, but these automated bots also invaded Instagram Stories, creating absolutely nonsense interaction.

One of the most common uses for these bots in social media is to respond to questions, especially those published on Instagram. For example: I posted a series of Stories about a coolhunting I did in the Netherlands and opened it up for comments from my followers. Here are some of the “answers” I got from bots:

  • Name 3 things you would teach your younger self?
  • Venice or Florence?
  • What pomade you use?
  • Hi kelsodre. Amazing question, we can’t find the right answer for you! Do you know about our company? For more info…

I also got some random emojis and other empty replies.

Bots aren’t the future

A lot is being said about the role of big data and AI in the next decade. In the Websummit 2019, most of the panels navigated around these main themes, which indicates the subject’s relevance to our society.

But in marketing and customer relations, I believe the future doesn’t lie on artificial intelligence. When it comes to dealing with people, it’s the human touch brands should be going for. Not in the least because right now the Occident is living its worst loneliness epidemic.

A 2018 research conducted by “The Economist” together with the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), revealed that 22% of all adults in the United States and 23% in the United Kingdom declare to always or often feel lonely, isolated, left out or lack companionship. According to a poll held by Vice, Millennials fear more being lonely than losing their house or their jobs. Bottom line, people are craving for contact with real humans.

For businesses, this translates as: establishing a true relationship with customers and building communities is more important than ever. Brands have the power to be the nexus of certain values that bond people together. Consumption choices are often used as a way to tell the world who you are and what is important to you. But the only path towards effectively building a strong brand community is through the sensitivity of a real person — not the automated empty reply of a bot.

I’m not saying that there is no use for big data or automation in marketing. There certainly is. However, brands should never let a bot do the job an experienced, empathetic and thoughtful professional should be doing, under the risk of losing their social relevance and falling into oblivion.

The Nubank case of success

The Brazilian fintech Nubank is a great case study in successful, human-centered approaches to customer care. The company started out as a credit card, aimed mainly at young people who wouldn’t be granted credit by traditional banks. Nubank doesn’t have branches, which means all the transactions are made online, on a very user friendly app.

But besides the innovative service, another aspect stands out in its business model: a humanized customer service. Although the business model is tech based, Nubank chose to keep their relation with its clients in very human hands.

Not only that, their staff is trained to act as humans, so whenever you get in touch with their channels, you can always expect an empathetic reply. “We provide all the tools our customers need to solve their own problems, from their balance verification to their invoice payment. So, if they reach out to us, it’s because something serious happened”, explained co-founder and director Cristina Junqueira in an interview to a Brazilian business magazine.

Sometimes customers get surprised by little treats the company sends them after a stressful situation.

According to the post, Instagram user @deyvissonmello had an abusive and incorrect interest charge on his credit card invoice. He got in touch with the company, which not only solved the problem quickly, but also sent him a hand written apology letter and a box with some branded treats.

Instagram user @pattyoliveirach is another example of people who were surprised by the bank’s customer care. She got flowers after having contacted the bank about payment arrangements for her wedding.

User @rayza_rocha contacted the bank to ask for a loan. Not only did she get the credit, but NuBank also sent some tokens to remind her that they try hard to help make their customers’ dreams come true.

Under the hashtag #nubank, on Instagram, you can find other examples of customers who got surprised by the brand. Of course, the experience becomes a post on social media, generating views for the company and eventually attracting new clients. But most of all, it builds a community of brand ambassadors, who will promote the brand just because they feel integrated, cared for and want to be part of it.

The results couldn’t be clearer; according to the company’s official financial statement report (in Portuguese), they have reached 10 million clients in 2019, and are internationalizing to Argentina and Mexico.

Put a human touch to your conversational marketing

Conversational marketing has been a big topic in the last three to four years in the field. Said simply, the idea is to use text messages in a strategic way to engage with your customers.

For some of the biggest companies, keeping all customer care in human hands may not be sustainable on an operational level. In such cases, getting some help from AI in the form of chat bots seem almost unavoidable.

And there is no problem with that, when it comes to answering simple questions, like the ETA of a purchase, changing the address for delivery, changing the date of an appointment. But, in order to efficiently connect with the public, being able to quickly escalate the conversation to a human when the demands become more complex is vital.

On the high-end, Burberry is one of the companies that started investing in the conversational marketing strategy to strengthen bonds with their top clients. The fashion brand partnered with Apple in September 2019 to use the R Message, a human-based service that allows a brand to text their public.

In this particular case, Burbery is using it so that store associates can directly message the most important customers of the brand. The company’s tech team is analyzing how they can combine this tool with AI. But, once more, the human touch is the cherry on top of the cake, offering a luxury service for an A+ public.

Focus on relationships

Numbers and automation tools are assets that can and should be used to help brands in their decision making process. However, when it comes to dealing with customers, artificial intelligence cannot replace genuine human connection where problems are solved not with algorithms, but with true understanding and empathy.

Brands that learn how to use this in their favour are able to build relationships with their customers and create a community around them. The reward is becoming a relevant social actor and thriving despite the turbulence of the contemporary market.


This is a story of the Futurist Club

by Science of the Time

Written by: Raquel Sodré

Raquel is a Lisbon-based communications specialist with a passion for telling stories and spotting trends. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Public Relations, and more than ten years’ experience covering a range of topics — including marketing, health, wellness, lifestyle, and science — as both a reporter for the O Tempo daily newspaper in Brazil and as a freelance writer. She also authored “História Bizarra da Psicologia” (2018), a non-fiction book for young adults. She is a native Portuguese (Brazilian) speaker, and fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian.

She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Culture and Communication at the University of Lisbon, and is a researcher at its Trends Studies and Culture Management Laboratory. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter (@kelsodre) to learn more about her work in lifestyle, cultural branding, tribal marketing, and trends studies.