Customers today expect to be able to get responses from the brands they interact with in real time—whenever that may be. And while it’s not realistic to expect a company’s employees to be available around the clock, there is a technological tool that’s available to meet this need.
This is where chatbots come into their own—helping to answer frequently asked questions, provide technical support, and even help a business develop sales leads. At their most basic, a chatbot is a piece of software that is programmed to respond to users’ questions. Responses can range from simple replies to more engaged answers or transferring the question to a human employee to follow up on.
On the Rise
Chatbot technology has improved rapidly in recent years, and one of the biggest drivers of innovation has been their popularity on Facebook Messenger. The platform now hosts hundreds of thousands of chatbots, which are used by brands that range from Spotify and Mastercard to The Wall Street Journal. Growing improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) have fed into this field, and AI-powered chatbots are actually able to learn from the questions they are asked, improving their performance in the long run. While they have a strong presence on Facebook, chatbots can be deployed on any platform.
Chatbots can be used for both converting website visitors to leads and increasing visitor retention. A few platforms offer a very easy onboarding process, so even people who aren’t tech savvy can quickly get up to speed with them.
Tech observers are bullish on the service, and predict even greater adoption in the future. For example, the research firm Insider Intelligence predicts that worldwide consumer retail spend through chatbots will reach $142 billion by 2024.
When it comes to automation, one of the biggest concerns is that it might be putting human employees out of work. However, while chatbot technology has improved, it still can’t take the place of real person-to-person interaction. Where it can make its biggest impact for a brand’s marketing and communications efforts is by freeing people from repetitive work, and helping to filter communication efficiently.
Chatbots can handle basic tasks related to engaging with current and potential customers—collecting contact information, answering frequently-asked customer service-related questions, and even providing basic tech support.
Garreth Stevens, consulting and sales manager at Custom Media, explained that a chatbot can offer a personal touch for website visitors: “If we think of a website as the digital equivalent of visiting a showroom, then a chat system that politely greets a visitor might be the equivalent of ‘Irasshaimase’ in Japan. Sure, it’s not exactly personal, but it’s a nice touch that’s directed at you after all.”
A well-executed chatbot setup can make a first connection with a potential customer and get relevant details from them in a natural, more conversational style—a far cry from having to fill out an online form. This information can then be shared directly with a member of your business’s sales team, giving them the key information they would need to make a well-informed first approach.
Edvard Vondra, business development executive at Custom Media, reinforced this, saying: “Chatbots bridge the gap between marketing and sales more than any other automation.”
Use and Choose Wisely
Stevens added that chatbots have the potential to engage site visitors in a unique way: “Done intelligently they can certainly assist with the customer experience at the right moment, and encourage people to take a first step in speaking to a company, making it easy for them to also leave behind a digital footprint, yielding first-party data in a world where Google and other lead generators give less and less.”
However, he warned that there are pitfalls when businesses deploy chatbots unskillfully: “While this may also result in cost-effectiveness, a company trying to roll out chatbots primarily as a cost-saving method is likely to negatively affect the customer journey. We’ve all been on a website that has a pop-up chatbot masquerading as an intelligent customer service tool, but when tested is no more than a glorified FAQ page.
A company trying to roll out chatbots primarily as a cost-saving method is likely to negatively affect the customer journey.
“You tend to get as much satisfaction out of them as speaking to Alexa in Spanish when you have your language setting in Japanese, and your very next action is to find the phone number of the company (which is increasingly hidden on purpose to save money) or worse, close the browser for good and never return. On this basis, companies need to consider carefully what their objective with a chatbot is and how it fits into the ideal customer experience they want to craft.”
There is a wide range of chatbot platforms on the market, such as WotNot, Intercom, and Landbot, as well as HubSpot’s chatbot service, which can be integrated with the company’s CRM solutions. The platforms available make it extremely easy to customize how the chatbots “speak,” giving you another way to successfully express your brand’s identity when you’re reaching out to existing or potential customers. Vondra pointed out: “It is better to give your chatbot a human touch—people like to do business with people, so choose your chatbot design wisely.”
As Brian Susantio, chief technology officer at Custom Media, explained, the combination of visitor engagement and increasing simplicity of use make them an appealing option for a wide range of businesses: “Chatbots can be used for both converting website visitors to leads and increasing visitor retention. A few platforms offer a very easy onboarding process, so even people who aren’t tech savvy can quickly get up to speed with them.”
In the years to come, we’re certain that chatbots will play an even greater role in helping brands and businesses stay in touch with their customers, keep them engaged, and provide them with excellent service. Now’s the time to figure out how to make them a part of your company’s strategy.
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