Written by Elizabeth Kelly
There’s a huge debate taking place in the business world. As AI technology, or the closest thing we have to it so far, begins to take center stage, what are the right ways to use automation in business communication?
Specifically, the conversation centers around the use of chatbots. It’s easier than ever to create one for your business, and the time saved answering basic questions can save your business a lot of money while letting you be more productive than you are now. No, we’re not talking about bots used for automatic retweets and likes for micro influencers on Twitter.
Sound good? There’s still a limit to what a chatbot can and can’t do. The first thing you need to know is what a chatbot is and why businesses use them. A chatbot is a program that can communicate with your customers through text. It’s programmed to understand most of what your customer is saying and responds appropriately. The more information you provide to the program, the better your bot will be able to help your customers.
How They Work
Chatbots can be compared to an advanced search toolbar with a personality. It’s linked into the information you want it to have, and can pull that information up based on what the customer asks. So if they ask if you have an estimated date for when a product will be back in stock, a bot could relay the answer to them. If they want to know the best number for reaching your company, whether or not you have any job openings, or what your current event schedule is, those are questions that your chatbot could respond to, instead of a live chat assistant, and just like a search engine, it responds with the link most likely to contain the information your user is looking for.
Chatbots are also useful in other ways. Some can be programmed to accept and process payments, making it easier and more efficient to handle payments. Other bots can quiz users about their preferences, and then suggest products based on their responses. You can even use them to drive engagement, if you create a bot that has less to do with finding answers and is created instead as a form of entertainment or educational marketing. When done correctly, you can have a lot of fun with chatbots, if that’s something that is right for your brand.
How to Get the Most from Your Chatbot
Chatbots can help to clear up your workday, but before they can be effective, you have to put some planning and work into it. For starters, you need to decide on the purpose of your bot. Will it be used for navigation, managing inventory requests, or to answer basic user questions? A narrow focus will create a better experience for your users. When you try to do too much, the bot becomes less effective, and that’s frustrating for users.
You also need to understand the limits of your bot, make sure your bot is programmed with limits, and know when and how to refer the user over to a live assistant. When the customer is asking for something that the bot can’t handle, there has to be a system in place.
Setting up all of these features, and knowing exactly how you want your chatbot to work, requires a lot of planning. It helps to know what you’re doing before you get started. The better your understanding is, and the stronger your plan is, the easier it’ll be to get everything put together and running smoothly.
The First Steps
Interested in trying out chatbots on your own website? There are several companies offering services in designing and programming chatbots for your website. You can also use any one of several DIY chatbot platforms. Either way, don’t start looking for companies until you know exactly what you need, and then find the company or platform that can best deliver on those needs.
Make sure you test out a lot of chatbots in this process, especially ones made by the companies you’re thinking about hiring to test yours. Look at what they can do, and visit some website that are actively using their bots. See which features are going to provide your company with what it needs.
Once you get your chatbot set up, be prepared to tweak the inputted information as necessary. It’s really helpful here if you have at least some experience in doing this, either from your own research or from an educational session with the bot developer. Make changes as needed. It might take a little while to get everything up and running at full capacity, so you need to be willing to put in the time. And as you update or change your business or website, don’t forget to adjust the bot, too, to reflect those new changes. You’ll get better functionality if your bot always has the most accurate data to work with.
Do You Need a Chatbot?
That depends on a few factors. The first is how large your company is and whether or not you already have a team that answers customer questions as they come in. If you’re wasting labor on answering a steady stream of basic questions, a chatbot can help you to reclaim that lost time and increase productivity. It’s also great if you want to provide users with a quick and easy way to access data (inventory management).
It’s important to remember that chatbots are less AI and more UI (user interface). It’s a quick way to gather information or get things done for your business. It doesn’t replace human interaction. But, as long as you remember the limits of a chatbot and monitor the interactions on a regular basis, it can be a huge timesaver for your business.
About the Author. Elizabeth Kelly is a professional ethical hacker who brings to the table over and above industry know-how, communication skills, a cool head under pressure, and faultless judgement. Ever the one interested in untangling problems and experimenting, she is heavily into growth hacking. She is also a sudoku fiend!
Follow her on Twitter: @ItsLizbethKelly