One of the most interesting developments in customer service is the chatbot. Chatbots are computer programs (bots) that interact with customers through conversation. These programs usually work through messaging platforms (like Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack, and Telegram) offering customer service, marketing, accounting, entertainment, information, and task management for their customers.

Because chatbots run on artificial intelligence and machine learning, they offer a unique opportunity for businesses to expand their capabilities while saving money and time. Chatbots can process and search through data at lightning-fast rates, allowing customers to get quick answers in a format they are familiar with.

For example, chatbots replace the need to call the customer service department or visit a website. All a customer would need to do is message the right chatbot while in Messenger. In some cases, the chatbot can even alert the customer when the order is ready.

While chatbots may sound like a cool and high-tech solution for tech-savvy customers and businesses, is it right for your business?

Let’s go through some of the key questions you need to focus on to answer that question.

1. Figure out if your business is ready for chatbots

To successfully integrate new technology into your business, make sure your business is ready. One way to do that is through taking care of the 5 Ps:

  • Purpose: Why are we using this technology? How will it make our business better?
  • People: Do we have the required talent and culture? If not, are we open to doing whatever it takes to get it?
  • Process: Do we have a well-defined process for what we are changing? Where do we need to improve?
  • Platform: How will this technology be used? How will it be accessed?
  • Profit: How much will it cost to use this new technology? How much money or time is this technology saving?

If we are using chatbots, some of the key factors to consider:

  • Unless you’re technically gifted, your platform for a chatbot is already defined. Most chatbots use messaging apps, like Facebook or Kik, to communicate.
  • You will need access to people with experience in machine learning and/or natural language processing
  • Your work culture must be open to constant experimentation and failure

Ask yourself if your business is ready to take on the investment of time, money, and labor to build a chatbot.

2. Understand what chatbots can and cannot do (at this current time) for your business.

Although chatbots are amazing, they can’t do everything. As Paul Roberts points out in Chatbot News Daily, businesses that rely solely on chatbots will fail. Humans provide value that cannot be duplicated by technology. You need a mix of human and technology. Finding the right balance, though, is something you will have to experiment with.

One thing you will need to consider is how to utilize human labor and chatbots where they will make the biggest impact. As the infographic below shares, chatbots are good at data and tasks. They are not so good at interacting on an emotional level (though they are getting better) and creativity.

 

3. Figure out what kind of chatbot you want to use

Chatbots are not a one-size-fits-all technology. They can be grouped into two categories: rules-based and AI chatbots.

Rules-based chatbot: The most common is the rule-based chatbot which is limited to pre-defined situations. For example, if a customer wanted to check their order status or make an appointment, the chatbot could only respond to those requests under certain conditions.

Benefits of a rules-based chatbot

  • Easier to control responses
  • Quick answers
  • Complete automated and repetitive tasks quickly

Risks of a rules-based chatbot

  • Complex problems-Customers may get frustrated if their problem doesn’t fit the rules
  • Use by customers-Customers have to be comfortable sharing information through a rules-based chatbot
  • Limited growth-Rules-based chatbots must be programmed to handle new situations

AI-based chatbot: This is chatbot is more advanced. AI chatbots are able to answer complex requests and more complex language. For example, a customer can use a chatbot like x.ai to schedule meetings for them. The x.ai chatbot starts with a simple email. From that point, x.ai will find open times in your calendar for meetings and then email a person requesting a meeting until they have agreed on a time.

Benefits of an AI-based chatbot

  • Handle complicated requests
  • Higher engagement from customers
  • Display more of brand personality

Risks of an AI-based chatbot

  • Less control of responses (Example: Tay, the AI chatbot released by Microsoft on Twitter)
  • Requires more complex training to set up
  • More data shared with AI-based chatbot could mean more risk

4. Understand best practices for using your chatbot

The world of chatbots is still in its infancy, but some common best practices are emerging. Some of these best practices may evolve, but the core principles (providing user-friendly and seamless support to humans) will stay the same.

  • Transparency: Inform customers if they are communicating with a chatbot (Over 80% of customers in a LivePerson survey wanted to know if they were talking to a human.)
  • Exit Strategy; Always include an option for customers to communicate with a human
  • Constant Feedback: Chatbot software has to be actively managed
  • User Oriented:  Design for your user’s goals, not your ego

5. Prepare your chatbot strategy

Adopting technology because your competitors have it is a failing strategy. You need a strategy that further details your answer to the 5 P’s mentioned above. Specifically, you need to know how you will use chatbots to achieve your business goals, how you will introduce it to your business, and how you will introduce it to the world.

6. Play around with other chatbots

At this point, you should have a good idea if your business is ready for chatbots or not. Making that decision, however, should also include interacting with real chatbots. Take some time to experiment with chatbots that will do the same function (or something similar) to your future chatbot. Identify things your future customers might like about the experience. Identify ways that you can improve that experience. Using these observations, you have a starting point for a chatbot (or chatbots) that can add value to your business.

 

The Overall Verdict: Should Every Business Get a Chatbot? It Depends

Chatbots are the new “kid on the block” so it’s easy to take a “wait and see” approach. The approach is probably advisable. Building a chatbot isn’t as easy. That said, neither is building a website, building an app, or using social media. All require an investment in time, money, and labor.

Businesses made the investment because the tide had turned. Business after business started getting their own websites, apps, and social media. Chatbots could follow the same trend. No one knows. What we do know is that your business will have to adapt to new technology. The principles above will work whether that new technology is a chatbot, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, or something else.

Whatever form this new technology takes, your business will have to decide if it’s something worth investing in. Chatbots falls into that group

Are you ready?

 

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Author Details
Almost-graduated turned freelance marketing/tech writer, future web developer, social justice advocate, and Millennial on a mission but still confused about the path
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Almost-graduated turned freelance marketing/tech writer, future web developer, social justice advocate, and Millennial on a mission but still confused about the path

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