Pre-2020, the chatbot industry was already growing rapidly. But as the coronavirus expanded into a pandemic, they became even more widely used for business communication and automation. Now, many brands across industries rely on AI chatbots to provide customer support 24/7, to send updates, recommend products, increase sales, and more. Conversational commerce will only keep growing and evolving from here. So how can your business prepare for the future of chatbots, including the chatbot trends that will emerge in 2021? We spoke to eight experts in the industry to get their takes on how chatbots changed in 2020, plus their predictions and advice for bots in 2021 (including tips for Instagram messaging!).

#1. Chatbots are becoming the primary channel for marketing conversations 💬

mkj messenger funnels

First, we spoke with Mary Kathryn Johnson (MKJ). She's the founder and CEO of Messenger Funnels, a chatbot agency dedicated to helping businesses grow through conversational marketing. She's also a conversational educator at Bot Academy, where she enjoys teaching more people how to leverage chatbot technology. MKJ also teaches Chatfuel's own Academy program for agencies, and has starred on our YouTube channel in the past to talk about conversational design. 👇

Here’s what she had to say about the past and future of chatbots:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

We optimize all chatbot flows for our clients to ensure each button meets the minimum criteria of 40% CTR. This one task has increased our conversions to sale by a little more than double. One client originally had a 4.6% conversion to sale from his flow, and after iteration of the flow's copy and buttons, the conversion to sale increased to 10.8%!

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

Quizzes have been very big this year. Our clients are getting an average of 60% of quiz participants to convert to visits to sales pages. And best of all, most of our quiz participants come from organic traffic, which means zero ad spend!

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

I loved seeing the opportunities presented with combining Mobile Wallet and chatbots to get higher attendance to webinars, challenges, and online events. Combining technologies to serve our customers better and provide a deeper solution to their needs is the most fun with chatbots!

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

I see chatbots reaching new heights in all our marketing efforts in the new year. For the majority of businesses, they're becoming the primary channel for marketing conversations—both online and off—because they're the number-one way for consumers to get the exact information and solutions they need from the businesses they love.

#2. Be first with Instagram messaging 🥇

tacobot

CJ Hutsenpiller is the next chatbot expert on our list. He's the founder and CEO of Tacobot, a US-based marketing agency that helps real estate agents and insurance brokers generate leads through bots. You can learn more about Tacobot and the results it gets for clients in this chatbot case study on our blog. Here are CJ's insights on the future of chatbots for marketing:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

In 2020, we spent a lot of time working on conversion within our Facebook bots—pushing a user to complete whatever goal we have for them. We started including "progress attributes" in each block and then built out a master follow-up sequence. This dramatically increased the conversion rates of our bots.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

My bots are all in the insurance space. One thing that almost every US-based car insurance company did in 2020 was issue what they called "COVID refunds," because many people weren't driving during the lockdown. We quickly gathered all the data on each carrier's refund amount and built a "COVID refund calculator" for our Messenger bots. We were then able to run ads that pushed people into this calculator. During that process, we collected data on their current carriers, how much they pay, when they pay, etc. From there, we used that data to build custom audiences and send sponsored message follow-ups where we could target people based on things they told us while they were using the calculator.

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

Personally, I stay in my own lane when it comes to bots, and I don't get outside of my own ecosystem very often.

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

The insurance space has always been behind on all things tech, including social media. They still refer to social media as a "new" thing. Of all the social platforms, insurance is most behind on Instagram. The addition of the ability to use bots on Instagram should be a huge deal because it's a very underutilized platform from an insurance perspective.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

Be first. Across most industries, there can be a lot of noise when it comes to marketing. Being unique can help you stand out. So, as Instagram becomes a bigger player in the chatbot realm, being one of the first businesses to utilize it will give you a competitive edge.

#3. Start looking at chatbots as engagement tools connected to other platforms 🔗

chatsales

Next, we spoke with bot guru Robert Taylor. He's the founder and CEO of Chatsales, a Facebook chatbot agency that helps businesses automate their marketing and sales systems. Robert was previously featured on our blog to share the story of his slow-travel lifestyle as a remote bot builder. Now, here's what he shared about chatbot industry trends in 2020 and 2021:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

One hack that helped was building a system and transforming it into a template to use as a baseline for every customer project. Our basic template has allowed us to create a diverse portfolio of businesses, all based on chatbot automation.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

When COVID-19 hit, we lost about 90% of our customers and had to rethink our entire business model. Since then, we've built and sold two businesses, and we're in the process of launching our own automated dropshipping platform, a social media platform. We also picked up a handful of big customers due to the new norms brought on by COVID-19.

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

Chatbots that allow skaters and musicians to engage and share unique content with fans. We're currently creating our own AI-embedded, print-on-demand platform and also an online education platform using Bubble, live video, and chatbots.

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

There are so many opportunities in 2021, it's crazy. My advice is to think outside the box, and start looking at using Messenger chatbots not as business tools, but as engagement tools connected to other platforms. No-code and platform integrations is how I see the future of chatbots.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

Use them to engage and move over to your own platform before trying to hard-sell through them.

#4. Use chatbots to create meaningful relationships on a one-to-one basis 🤝

ryan dearlove chitchat

Up next is Ryan Dearlove, founder and CEO of the Chit Chat bot agency. Chit Chat helps brands better engage with their customers through conversational marketing. Ryan shared his reflections and predictions on the chatbot industry, plus a few chatbot best practices to keep in mind in 2021:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

I'm a big believer in segmentation and using data to improve performance. For every ad set, we also create a corresponding flow or block. To do this, we use JSON ads to redirect each ad set to the correct flow or block. We can add custom attributes, track performance, and create a unique conversational path for each of these ad sets.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

It's been an unusual year for everyone, but we've been lucky to land a few new clients. Most notably, we created a conversational experience for a large, fast-moving consumer goods (FCMG) brand. We've also been able to use our experience in chat marketing to help steer our existing clients through the pandemic.

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

I think we're seeing more brands use chatbots not just as customer service tools, but to deliver a unique personal brand experience that creates meaningful relationships on a one-to-one basis.

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

In terms of daily usage, more people use social messaging apps than social media, so Facebook is investing heavily in this area. The standalone improvements of Messenger apps such as WhatsApp and the cross-platform integration of Messenger and Instagram will be a great opportunity for brands.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

I would recommend that brands give it a try, especially ecommerce brands. The vast majority of incoming messages are pre-purchase, so brands that use Instagram messaging will have a marketing edge.

#5. Look out for Facebook Shops + chatbots 🛍️

brian meert advertisemint

We also chatted with Brian Meert, who is the founder and CEO of AdvertiseMint. This digital advertising agency specializes in Facebook advertising and Facebook Messenger chatbots. He explains the chatbot trends he's noticed in 2020, and adds his advice for what to expect in the new year:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

We've been using SMS to help reengage users at specific moments in time. This has helped us keep the conversation going outside of the Messenger window.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

We have a finance client that utilized Messenger to help qualify their leads before sending them on to sales reps. This helped their sales team focus on the priority leads first, which resulted in a huge increase in overall sales.

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

Instead of using an influencer platform, we had one client use a Messenger bot as a casting call to help build and grow relationships with influencers. This allowed them to scale the campaign as it started working, and to retain all the data for their social media team.

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

I believe Facebook Shops have the potential to grow once they have customer credit cards on file. Once this happens, the conversion process can be as simple as Amazon's, which would give Facebook a big advantage. When Shops are simple to set up, and Messenger integrates with them easily, I think there's a lot of potential to increase sales for ecommerce brands.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

Instagram has such a unique audience, so it's exciting to see new ways to begin conversations with users on that platform. However, their community also has a high threshold for quality. So if you're going to create automated conversations, take the time to set them up in a way that will be valuable to the people using them.

#6. Play by the rules with Instagram messaging 📄

jvi mobile jay vics

Jay Vics also commented on key chatbot use cases for 2021 and beyond. Jay is the founder and CEO of JVI Mobile, where he helps businesses increase qualified leads and sales through chatbots. Here's what he had to share:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

That utilizing One-Time Notifications (OTNs) is a powerful way to communicate with people outside of the 24-hour messaging window. Just make sure you request permission from the user first. You can think of these as "tokens." Ask, "Do you wish to be notified in the future"? If they say yes, look at it as one token—or the opportunity to send them a single OTN. You can also actually set a variable for an OTN as a number (name it "OTN tokens"). Then when you ask the user for permission, you add one "token" to their virtual bucket. When you send an OTN, subtract one token from the bucket.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

Our biggest wins were for a chain of retail mattress stores. We set up ads using the Send Message objective, and used the JSON JavaScript I gave each franchisee to drive users into a Messenger chatbot. This helps them set up appointments, collect online reviews, and even send out reminders to the user to rotate their mattress every 90 days!

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

Virtual birthday clubs, which send the user something on their birthday each year either by Messenger, SMS, or email (based on the user's preference).

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

I see more increased awareness for them, and massive growth for the chatbot industry. The new Instagram and WhatsApp messaging integration is going to catapult chatbots into being a must-have for all businesses.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

Play by the rules and guidelines of the platform and hire help if you aren't sure. It may seem like the wild, wild west when a new integration or medium allows marketers to participate, but the rules will tighten, like they did last March with Facebook. Pay attention!

#7. Brands have to be ready for Instagram messaging demand ✅

chatveda nikesh ghosh

Nikesh Ghosh is the founder of the chat marketing agency, Chatveda, which helps businesses acquire and delight customers through conversational AI. He shared his expertise on chatbot industry trends as well, both looking back on 2020 and looking ahead to 2021:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

During the lockdown, there was a rise in Facebook Live usage by brands. We "hacked the system" using Messenger chatbots, which improved early registration and lead generation, and drove audiences to the scheduled Facebook Live with timely reminders.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

We did a chat marketing campaign for one of the largest LinkedIn influencers in our country. The chatbot was used to deliver content, downloadable assets like checklists, and takeaways from his paid workshop. It resulted in over 10,000+ subscribers with a 90% open rate.

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

We saw Messenger chatbots being used by government entities in different countries to generate awareness for COVID-19, and to help users understand their risk level.

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

We are fully invested in transforming and adapting businesses to conversational marketing in India. With our launch of WhatsApp chatbots, we're enabling businesses—from startups to enterprises— to use the power of conversational marketing to scale up. As WhatsApp and Instagram open their doors, a new era of chat marketing and its applications will revolutionize the way brands communicate with their customers.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

According to the latest data: In Q3 2020, the audience for the 50 largest brands on Instagram was 34.7% larger than on Facebook. In addition, 90% of accounts follow a business on Instagram. Messenger has now also announced that the Messenger API will support Instagram. Once it's out of beta, it will help businesses improve customer care and response rates and drive more brand awareness and sales through messaging. As direct messaging becomes more seamless, customers will rely on direct, fast communication, and brands have to be ready for it.

#8. Giving customers the best service experience is the ultimate hack 👩🏾‍💻

karen sahetya brand central marketing

Karen Sahetya is the founder of Brand Central Marketing, a group of world-class Facebook marketing experts who understand how chatbots can fit into the bigger picture. She related her thoughts on chatbot benefits, key use cases, and predictions for the future with us:

What's one chatbot hack you learned in 2020 that improved performance?

Giving customers the best service experience is the ultimate hack, because it’s often overlooked yet is incredibly important. So moving beyond client acquisition efforts and into retention using chatbots is a great strategy.

Can you share one of your biggest chatbot campaign wins from 2020?

One of our biggest wins in 2020 was for a car wash client, where their goal was to get more membership customers in the door. They were not only able to get $152,570 in recurring revenue with only $5,135 in ad spend, but they even MADE money on the front end of the promotion (whereas usually, front-end promotions lose money or break even). Instead of giving away free car washes, we gave prospects a $9.99 offer, and because we acquired these purchases at less than $2 per, the car wash made money even before recurring revenue factored in.

What's one of the most unique ways you saw chatbots being used in 2020?

I’ve enjoyed seeing increased use of chatbots in ecommerce as a marketer, but also as an end-user, since it lets me shop from right within Messenger and track those purchases more easily.

What new opportunities do you foresee for chatbots in 2021?

The biggest opportunity for chatbots in 2021 will be for businesses to stop viewing chatbots as a standalone solution. Instead, they'll integrate Messenger bots with SMS, email, and the rest of their marketing efforts for a more well-rounded marketing strategy.

What advice would you give to businesses regarding Instagram messaging automation in 2021?

Like any new feature marketers get their hands on, it’s important to use it with discretion. It's also key to not copy and paste the strategy you use elsewhere, like in email for example, into your Instagram messaging efforts. Consider the end-user experience, and don’t abuse this direct line to your ideal customers.

Cheers to chatbots in 2021 🥂

2020 has been full of challenges. But when it comes to businesses, Messenger bots have helped many adapt and even thrive in these times. And as you can see from these expert insights, chatbot marketing will only continue to grow in the new year.

If you're ready to build a bot for your business, you can sign up for your free Chatfuel account today. The function of Chatfuel is to empower you to build no-code bots, so you can get started right away. Then, when you're ready for unlimited users and priority support, upgrade to Pro. Run a marketing agency? Learn more about our Premium Agency plan.

👉And in case you haven't heard, we're building messaging automation tools for Instagram! Sign up to get notified when we launch.