I remember when the phrase “like talking to a robot” wasn’t a good thing.
You’d say it to compare someone to being as boring and stiff as a machine. I mean, just think about the dance move “doing the robot” – there’s no impassioned moving of the hips, it’s all angles and precision.
Of course, talking to a robot is changing. From Alexa and Google Assistant, to automated customer service points, robots, or more specifically artificial intelligence (AI), is closing the gap between interacting with computer programs and people. Machines and applications are now cleverer, more perceptive and perkier than ever.
Enter the chatbot.
At their core, chatbots are computer programs used to simulate human conversation and interact with real people online, helping to complete tasks and solve problems. From a business perspective, they can be tailored to assist in a range of different customer service, sales and marketing scenarios.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of chatbots when they’re done right – but before we go there, let’s look at the bigger picture.
Here’s an interesting sign of the times: In 2020, for the first time ever, there’ll be more mobile messaging app users than social network users. In other words, people are moving away from broadcasting to the world what they ate for lunch, in favour of sharing this with a limited group of people – most commonly in a closed conversation thread.
The way we’re connecting with businesses online is moving in the same direction. Direct messaging through apps like Facebook Messenger, along with SMS and email are the way we prefer to engage with businesses.
Chatbots exist to be the “always-on” presence at the other side of these enquiries.
Types of chatbots
Google search “different chatbots” and you’ll see there’s no official number of chatbot types – some say there are three and others go so far as eight.
I like to think of chatbots in two categories: simple and sophisticated.
Simple chatbots use multiple menus or buttons to guide people to answers. Depending on the response that a person chooses, the bot lists out the next set of response options for the person to choose from, until they get to the information they need. These are the most widely used chatbots and are ideal for answering presale questions and common FAQs about your online store or services.
Sophisticated chatbots meanwhile, use AI to analyse and respond to keywords in people’s enquiries. Some sophisticated chatbots can even use people’s individual data, along with contextual questioning to give people a tailored and “unique” experience. The good news is that these chatbots are limited to their preloaded knowledge, which means they won’t go off-script.
How they’re good for business
In a nutshell:
- Save time/money: chatbots are more cost-effective to implement than full time human resources to respond to every enquiry that comes through your online channels
- Lead generation: flashy website landing pages will get you so far; a friendly chatbot provides an added layer of interaction that can help prospects over the line
- Data collection: as you review chatbot logs and interactions, you’ll discover surprising (and useable) insights around your target audience, including what they need and how they ask for it
- “Always-on”: as creepy as it sounds, chatbots never sleep, which means your business can be responsive no matter the hour
- Consistency: once programmed, your chatbots will deliver consistent messages, minimising risk of misinformation to your customers
- Effective triaging: chatbots can’t do it all (yet), but for many businesses, triaging customer enquiries is a consuming affair. Chatbots can help answer common enquiries, filter leads and escalate customers who need urgent support to the right people in your business
There are plenty of benefits to using chatbots, but they need to be executed properly.
At the very least, this involves tailoring your chatbot to your business. Chatbots are most useful when they provide support at the right time and with knowledge and information that your customers are looking for – so bypass the generic chatbot business packages. Align your chatbot strategy to the journey your customers take to purchase your product or service and you’ll be starting strong.
Most importantly though, never forget the people at the heart of your chatbot strategy and the way they want to be engaged.
As American inventor and artist Ken Goldberg puts it, “we’re fascinated with robots because they are reflections of ourselves.”