Chatbots are the future of digital engagement between businesses and their customers. The future is here.
The term Chatbots still sounds a bit unfamiliar but it will soon be as commonplace as social media, smartphones, digital marketing, and other technologies we use on a daily basis.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a form of digital communication through a texting interface. Through chatbot implementation, businesses can communicate with their customers in a number of different ways. Insurance companies are able to offer coverage quotes. Food delivery services and restaurants can take orders or make reservations. Weather services can offer localized forecasts. Healthcare providers can schedule appointments. And any type of business can explain their services, location and business hours.
And that’s only the start. There are some companies that are even offering basic communications between employees and human resource departments via chatbots. The business community is already learning that there are virtually unlimited options for this technology as it continues to advance.
Chatbots or Texting Robots?
Think of chatbots as texting robots, or another way to enable communications between you and your customers without human interaction. You’re probably slightly familiar with the technology. You might have received a chat window greeting as you visited a website and a written prompt to interact with, “How can we help you?”
Perhaps you were invited to type your request for a certain pair of shoes or a set of luggage or whatever else the site markets. You could have been asked for the size, color, price range, or brand preferences and then shown options available on the website. It’s essentially of the web equivalent of being in a brick-and-mortar retail store and going straight to the nearest sales clerk rather than roaming the store and window shopping by yourself.
But now these chatbots are being housed in messaging apps, and here’s why that’s important:
Text vs. Phone Calls
Consider this: For the first time ever, people are now using messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger, Telegram and Slack to name a few. They're using these more than they’re using social media apps.
How do most people communicate today? Well think about it- do you see more people on their phones texting or do you see them on an actual call? Do you ever hear your cell ring and automatically conclude that it must be a telemarketer or a wrong number because virtually everyone you know would text or email rather than call you?
The point is, texting is the way people communicate today and it is increasingly becoming more prevalent. People are already using their smartphones to track store locations, product availability, and pricing when they’re ready to buy. So why wouldn’t they look for the added convenience of a brief text chat to get the same information even faster?
That’s why there's significant opportunity with chatbots as a channel for reaching and engaging with customers. It can now be another tool in your sales and marketing toolbox, and one that's especially appealing to your younger audiences. Now let’s dive a little deeper into what chatbots actually are.
The two types of chatbot technologies
The first and simplest chatbot is run on of rules-based programming and it’s about as basic as a phone response tree. You ask a question or open a line of communication and the technology comes up with a pre-programmed script that seems to best match a query with a response. If the chatbot can’t come up with the proper dialogue or the customer’s needs are too complex to be handled by automation, a human takes over.
The second and much more complex technology is a run on of artificial intelligence. AI chatbots get better over time because they “learn” language from previous interactions. Through this machine learning, the technology can better assess the communication, considering not just the words used but the context of the message and how it might relate to past communications with that customer. An AI chatbot conversation also tends to be less robotic and more conversational in nature.
In many cases, your customers will actually think they’re talking with a human rather than a machine. That’s as important to many of your customers as having at least one employee checkout lane in a supermarket along with the convenience of self-serve checkout.
A supplement, not a replacement
And that gets us to the critical takeaway: It’s important to remember that the purpose of chatbots in business is to supplement -- not to circumvent -- human interaction. Don’t adopt the technology so you can lay off half of your customer service staff like you might bring a robot into a factory to shape molten metal.
Sure, you can begin many customer interactions with chatbots, and in some cases, you won't need to intervene with a human representative, but there will be times when you need to.
For instance, if you owned a car dealership, your chatbot could answer your customer's questions about your location and hours of operation. This would free your customer service staff for more productive and important responsibilities, such as face-to-face interaction with real-life customers. But what if a customer started asking questions via the chatbot about financing terms and the details of various makes and models, or wanted to haggle a price? Sure, your chatbot could be programmed to accurately respond to those kinds of queries, but wouldn’t you prefer if one of your best salespeople could hop on the chat?
The point is to know when and how to productively use chatbots, versus when only human interaction will suffice. Consider adding the technology to your communications channel for the convenience of those younger and highly tech-savvy customers who expect to be able to communicate via text.
After all, if you’re not considering adoption of such futuristic technology, be assured that your competitors probably are.
Are you using chatbots for your business website?
Suggested reading: How marketing automation can propel your business to the next level.