There is no question that technology has changed the way we do business, both as vendors and as consumers. While we may still have an occasional need to go to a store and stand in line at a customer service desk, a significant percentage of people do their shopping online – and they want their customer service to be available there too. Many companies have integrated customer service into their social media accounts, and some even offer live chat on their websites.
Those are all great options – but they also require you to pay a flesh-and-blood person to be on the other end of those interactions. What if there were another way? That’s where chatbots come in.
What is a Chatbot?
Chatbots are the new kid on the technological block, so it’s likely you haven’t heard of them before. Basically, a chatbot is a computer program that integrates with an existing Messaging platform, such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Discord, or Kik. The program is designed to interact with people based on their questions and comments. In other words, it’s like a robot employee.
There are two basic types of chatbot:
- Chatbots that function based on rules are simple to program, but also limited in terms of what they can do. They will respond only to very specific commands, which means that if a user types words that it doesn’t recognize, it will not respond.
- Chatbots that function based on machine learning are designed using artificial intelligence. That means that they understand language, not just pre-programmed commands, and they can learn as they go. They are more complicated to design than rules-based chatbots, but also far more versatile.
You can program a chatbot to do almost anything, including:
- Answering customer questions
- Showing a customer available products
- Subscribing customers to a newsletter
- Providing news and updates
Despite what you might believe, it isn’t all that complicated to program a chatbot that uses machine learning. If you hire an experienced developer or programmer, they can do it for you. If you elect to use a rules-based chatbot, you will have to make sure to provide customers with an option to talk to a live representative. The limitations of a rules-based chatbot can make it frustrating to deal with one if you don’t know the proper commands.
How Small Business Can Benefit from Using Chatbots
How can your business benefit from using a chatbot? A 2016 survey showed that 54% of respondents would prefer to interact with their favorite brands via a messaging service. As consumers grow accustomed to receiving service online that number is likely to increase. Using a chatbot is a good way to give your customers what they want without having to pay a live customer service rep to be available 24 hours a day.
There are two primary ways that small businesses can utilize chatbots to assist their customers, improve customer service, and increase sales.
The first potential application that local businesses can have for chatbots is to provide their customers with necessary information and direction at all hours of the day and night. For example, a chatbot might be able to:
- Let customers know what your store hours are
- Give information regarding where you are located, or which location is closest to a customer
- Direct customers to products that meet their needs
- Answer questions about a product’s functionality or price
- Record customer complaints or issues so you can follow up later
In other words, a well-designed chatbot can act like a 24-hour customer concierge, helping people understand your products and services and assisting them with problems.
Sales and Conversion
The other potential application that a local business might have for a chatbot is to use it as a 24-hour sales assistant and conversion specialist. A lot of times, customers need some guidance while using a website. They might prefer to ask a question rather than navigating a menu or trying to find what they want on their own. A chatbot that is programmed to assist with sales can:
- Take a customer’s specifications or requests and present them with a list of products (Facebook has a chatbot that companies can use to show customers a carousel of product choices within the Messenger app)
- Narrow the products down by size, price, or any other factor
- Provide a clickable link that allows the customer to make a purchase right from the messaging app
- Direct them back to the feed or post where they started
Having a chatbot that can do these things can help you convert a casual social media browser to a customer in just a few minutes. There might not be a real person behind the chatbot, but a well-designed chatbot can provide a level of personalized service that simply isn’t possible on a website or even on the phone.
How to Get Started
If you want to design a chatbot for your business, there are some things you need to know to get started. The first is that, while it may be prohibitively expensive to hire someone to create a bespoke chatbot for your company, some designers are offering a variety of chatbot templates that can be adapted with specific functionalities to meet your needs. Some companies to check out include are Rapidfy and SaltMinesGroup
If your company has a presence on Facebook, you can also check out their chatbot page to learn more about the options available. Their platform makes it possible to create a chatbot with the functionalities that will be most useful to your business, including some that allow you to show customers products and assist purchases. You can find more information on Facebook here.
You also have the option of trying to develop a bot on your own. There are a number of websites that provide basic guidance to help walk you through the process. Here are a few to try:
Chatbots offer small businesses a way to harness technology to provide customers with 24 hour service at a fraction of what it would cost to pay a round-the-clock staff. While there are some start-up costs involved, a well-designed bot can pay for itself in increased sales and customer satisfaction.