Chatbots are the future of digital engagement between businesses and their customers — and the future is here. The term still sounds a little out there, but it will soon be as familiar as “social media,” “digital marketing,” “smartphones” and…texting.
A chatbot is a form of digital communication through a texting interface. Through chatbots, businesses can communicate with their customers in a number of ways. Insurance companies are able to offer coverage quotes. Food delivery services and restaurants might take orders or make reservations. Weather services can offer localized forecasts. Healthcare providers can schedule appointments. And any type of business can explain their services, location and business hours.
And that’s only the start. There are some corporations that are even offering basic communications between employees and human resource departments via chatbots. The business community is already learning that there are virtually unlimited options for this technology as it continues to advance.
Chatbots or Texting Robots
Think of chatbots as texting robots, or another way to enable communications between you and your customers without human interaction. You’re probably already at least slightly familiar with the technology. You might have received a chat window greeting as you visited a website and a written prompt to interact. “How can we help you?” you might have been asked.
Perhaps you were invited to type your request for a certain pair of shoes or a set of luggage or…whatever the site markets. You could have been asked for size, color, price range or brand preferences and then been shown options on the website. It’s sort of the web equivalent of being in a brick-and-mortar retail store and going straight to the nearest sales clerk rather than roaming the premises and window shopping for yourself.
But now these chatbots are being housed in messaging apps, and here’s why that’s important.
Text vs. Phone Calls
Consider this: For the first time ever, people are now using messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger, Telegram, Slack and others, more than they’re using social media apps. Or maybe that’s not so surprising.
How do most people communicate today? Which are you most familiar with: the sight of cellphone users with their phones up to their ears or being used as a keyboard? Do you ever hear your cell phone ring and automatically conclude that it must be a telemarketer or a wrong number because virtually everyone you know would text rather than call you?
The point is, texting is the way people communicate today. With their family, friends and — more and more — in their business relationships. And why not? They already use their smartphones to track store locations, product availability and pricing when they’re ready to buy. So why wouldn’t they look for the added convenience of a brief text chat to get that same information even faster?
That’s why there’s so much opportunity with chatbots as yet another channel for reaching and engaging with your customers. Another tool in your sales and marketing toolbox, and one that’s especially appealing to your younger audiences. Now let’s dive a little deeper into what chatbots actually are.
Smartish and Smarter
There are two types of chatbot technologies. The simplest is run on rules-based programming and it’s about as basic as a phone response tree. You ask a question or open a line of communication and the technology comes up with a pre-programmed script that seems to best match query with a response. If the chatbot can’t come up with the proper dialogue or the customer’s needs are too complex to be handled by automation, a human takes over.
The second, and much more complex, technology is run on artificial intelligence. AI chatbots get better over time because they “learn” language from previous interactions. Through this machine learning, the technology can better assess the communication, considering not just the words used but the context of the message and how it might relate to past communications with that customer. AI chatbot communications are also less robotic and more conversational in nature.
In many cases, your customers will actually think they’re talking with a human rather than a machine. That’s as important to many of your customers as having at least one employee checkout lane in a supermarket along with the convenience of self-serve checkout.
A Supplement, Not a Replacement
And that gets us to a most critical takeaway. It’s important to remember that the purpose of chatbots in business is to supplement — not to circumvent — human interaction. Don’t adopt the technology so you can lay off half of your customer service staff like you might bring a robot into a factory to shape molten metal.
Sure, you can begin many customer interactions with chatbots, and in some cases, you never need to turn the conversation over to staff with a heartbeat. But there are other times you must.
For instance, if you owned a car dealership, your chatbot could answer all of your texted questions about your location and hours of operation. This would free your customer service people for more productive responsibilities, such as face-to-face interaction with real-life customers. But what if your messaging customer started asking questions about financing terms and the relative merits of various makes and models, or wanted to haggle price? Sure, your chatbot could be programmed to accurately respond to those kinds of queries, but wouldn’t you prefer that one of your best salespeople hop on the chat?
The point is to know when and how to productively use chatbots, versus when only human interaction will do. Consider adding the technology to your communications channel for the convenience of those younger and highly tech-savvy customers who expect to be able to communicate that way.
After all, if you’re not considering adoption of such futuristic-but-here technology, be assured that your competitors probably are.
Are you using chatbots for your business website?