Modern business chatbots are extremely useful at the customer’s end, making it possible for them to get the assistance they require whenever they require it. No need to wait for queues to clear up or for human assistants to get their minds in gear and check their records: just issue a query and get a near-immediate response.
What’s more, this functionality is often available across various platforms. Want to get some support from within Facebook Messenger instead of heading to an external site? Not a problem. Everything can be accessible, complete with a full device-independent range of features. In a time of high customer expectations, it’s really hard to disregard the importance of this move.
But what if that isn’t quite enough for you? What if the happiness of your customers isn’t enough to motivate you and you need a case that’s even more practical? Or, perhaps you’re completely unfamiliar with chatbots altogether, and you’re keen to know more. If so, read on — below we’ll provide a broad overview of chatbots, from how they work, to how they can help your entire business.
What is a chatbot?
In the simplest terms, a chatbot is an artificially-intelligent computer program that can hold a conversation with humans. Chatbots can be used to carry out a wide range of tasks, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about their use cases within the business world.
Even if you think you’re unfamiliar with chatbots and how they work, it’s likely you’ve dealt with one before. If you’ve ever visited an ecommerce store, you’ve probably noticed a pop-up chat window. If you made use of this, the chances are that the ‘person’ you were conversing with was, in fact, a chatbot.
It might surprise you to hear that adding a chatbot to your business is unlikely to cost the earth (especially compared to a traditional call center), and will require little to no coding to build. Many chatbot service providers will include an intuitive chatbot builder as part of the package, allowing you to customize conversation ‘paths’ in a hassle-free manner. If you’re handier with development tools and software engineering, you can even use a chatbot API to inject artificial intelligence into your bot, too. This will allow your chatbot to guide the conversation on its own.
While it’s true that chatbots are still in their infancy, they’re already perfectly capable of improving your customer service experience, and helping businesses reach new customers. Not convinced? Below, we’ll detail just how useful chatbots can be.
The benefits of chatbots for small businesses
They help avoid overwork
When the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak became apparent, lockdown procedures were implemented throughout the world, leading the average business to choose one of two options: shut down (either temporarily or permanently), or start working remotely. Most chose the latter and started doing what they could to get used to having their teams divided.
Part of this effort involved mitigating the typical discomfort of remote working, investing in home offices to make it as easy as possible for people to maintain productivity — but this had some counter-productive repercussions. Here's why: the more you do to make someone's home office comfortable (investing in equipment such as docks, audio cables, chairs, etc.), the more likely they'll be to blur the boundary between working time and professional time. They might not mean to, but the drive to be productive can leave people anxious about wrapping up their days.
When that boundary blurs, the workers get pushed ever closer to burnout. And what tends to encourage people to work late? Out-of-hours requests such as the kind that can arrive through customer support systems. Through passing those to chatbots and outright forbidding your employees from addressing any issues that haven't been escalated, you can help to reinforce that vital work/life balance and keep their time going towards work that really warrants it.
They support A/B testing
Here’s another thing that makes a customer chatbot so valuable for you: it has perfect powers of recollection. It’s true, of course, that you can just as easily record conversations between your human support assistants and your customers when they’re talking through a live chat system, but there’s one more thing to give the chatbot the edge: its unrelenting consistency.
A chatbot will proceed in exactly your chosen path every time, without fail. That makes it superb for testing and analytics. Your human assistants can flub their lines, so to speak: commit typos that marginally undermine their points, get angry and cause arguments (particularly when dealing with angry customers), or simply demonstrate ignorance that implies fundamental failures on the part of your brand. This can do a lot of damage to how your business is perceived — but a chatbot has no such troubles.
Combine these strengths and you have an exceptional A/B testing system that will give you some degree of protection from criticism. You’re responsible for your chatbot, of course, but if it goes awry then you can attribute it to the challenges of technology (and if it goes very awry then you won’t be pressured to fire the responsible party — even if the programmer is placed in that position, the customer is highly unlikely to seek their dismissal).
They can be deployed internally
How many internal systems does your small business have? At the moment, you may not have much of an infrastructure in place, but as your business grows this is likely to change. Before long, you’re bound to need some kind of HR system for handling time-off requests, a cloud storage system for sharing files, a communication tool for keeping everyone talking, and a project management suite for allocating and tracking tasks. We could go on, but we’ll stop there. The bottom line is this: chatbots can help you manage the internal demands of a growing business.
If your company's IT setup seems somewhat unwieldy, why not implement a chatbot to help you bring everything together? You could add it to a private section of your company site, or set it up through a social media integration, but you’re best served adding it as an integration to every system you use — that way, each one can communicate with the others to some extent.
If someone wanted to turn a Slack note into an Asana task, for instance, they could simply engage with the chatbot within Slack and never need to enter Asana directly. From that one window, they could check their available leave, submit a request, search company files, review process documentation, and do various other useful things.
The dos and don'ts of chatbots
Chatbots can be extremely helpful, but don’t make the mistake of placing too much reliance upon them. Follow these basic dos and don'ts if you want to get the most out of your ‘bot.
1. Have human agents handle more complicated customer queries
Complicated questions can trip up even the most advanced of chatbots. Have your customer service agents handle the tricky stuff.
2. Add some flair to your chatbot
Don’t be afraid to inject some of your brand’s personality into your chatbot. Remember — you want your chatbot to be convincing!
3. Let your customers know what your chatbot can do
Get your chatbot to introduce itself through a pop-up. Make sure you detail exactly what your chatbot is capable of in its opening message — something like “Hey, I’m <Bot Name> and I can help you with returns, refunds, and frequently asked questions. What would you like to talk about?”
1. Use your chatbot to spam
Remember — your chatbot is here to help your customers. Don’t use your chatbot as a vehicle for predatory marketing tactics. If you do, any shoppers that land on your page are unlikely to stick around for long.
2. Send big blocks of text
We understand — you may think it's a sensible idea to have your chatbot relay all of the most frequently asked questions without any prompt but trust us: it isn’t. Program your chatbot to send small chunks of text at a time, and make sure your conversational paths are structured logically.
3. Disregard buttons
Buttons are a great way to list out your bots’ capabilities and your audience will love having readily-made options without being forced to engage in a conversation. Just remember to use them sparingly!
Wrapping up, there are great reasons why you should implement chatbots within your small business, not only to field customer queries but also to field those of your team members. They’re potent tools for improving efficiency, preserving healthy schedules, and returning rich insight that can fuel operational enhancements. If you’ve yet to deploy any chatbots for your company, this is the perfect time to make the change. For more information on how similar tools can help your business, check out our post on the newest automation trends.