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They're here and you're probably dealing with one on a regular basis. Chatbots are here to stay. But, should small business owners be adopting them or are they just the latest shiny distraction?

Read on, if you’re wondering what the fuss is all about and why more and more businesses (yes even small ones) make them a part of their marketing automation strategy.

What’s a chatbot and how do I recognise one?

A bot is the name used to describe the technology that automates tasks. Chatbots automate online conversations or, at a minimum, initiate a conversation with a website visitor.

You will almost certainly have seen them pop up in the bottom right corner of websites or a company’s facebook page prompting you to type in a query. They're like a conversational interface between your client or website visitor and your brand.

Chatbots can be embedded in your website pages or integrate with messenger platforms, Facebook Messenger for example. They typically use artificial intelligence (AI) that enables them, to "learn" and become increasingly adept at interpreting natural conversational language.

How can my business benefit from the Bots and Messenger Apps?

As controversial (and, admittedly, depressing) as this sounds, consumers actually value "humanless" interaction. As consumers, we now expect to be able to have relevant reliable information at our finger tips - anywhere, any time. This extends to the way we shop for products and services.

When a brand is available and active on a messaging app, over 66% of consumers will feel more confident about purchases, while 55% feel more connected to the brand. (Source: Facebook)

Messenger apps can be accessed right where the consumer is without the need to download anything, send emails or wait hours for replies. It’s instant and efficient and available 24/7. Provided you build them the right way, chatbots can facilitate a high quality customer service experience for your customers and have them coming back for more. Best of all the technology can handle multiple conversations at once, so it's entirely scaleable.

What type of customer conversations can my bot handle?

While certainly not 100% perfect, bots are increasingly sophisticated and capable of handling a range of customer interactions at scale. Here are some examples.

1. Customer Service and Support

This is where the rubber really hits the road. If there was ever an area where expectations are frequently unfulfilled it’s in customer service. Frustration is typically already high when a person reaches out. Extended waiting times and having to “jump through proverbial hoops” test your customers patience sorely.

On the other hand, quickly access to solutions and answers, without the need for human intervention, can really make for a quality customer experience, improve coveted net promoter scores and stimulate social proof and word of mouth.

To achieve this, bots can be plugged into a knowledge base and support ticketing system to for a streamlined customer service experience.

For more complex queries that are beyond a chatbot's scope, conversations can be handed off to a human agent and the consumer is able to complete their query through live chat.

2. Lead Generation

Contact information that you may otherwise collect via a web form can be done through a bot right where your lead is. This makes for more engaging user experience plus it lessens friction which leads to higher conversion rates.

3. Simple Inquiries

83% of consumers say a quick response is important when they have pertinent questions

If your business fields a high volume of repetitive questions, answers can generally be standardised. For example, questions about your location or opening hours. This is something that a bot can handle really well, saving you time and money. Typically any lower level task can be handled more efficiently by a bot and they are the obvious ones to begin with.

The current CV-19 crisis has hastened many organisations to adopt the technology in recent weeks.

Are there any instances in which a chatbot is not recommended?

While automated chat tools can be used in many different situations, they are not 100% fail proof. The technology may be unable to understand more complex queries or language and incorrectly interpret a question and, as a result, provide an erroneous answer. If there is a high commercial risk associated with getting it wrong, a chatbot should not be considered.

How do I know if it’s right for my business

If you’re considering setting up and automating chat flows there are a number of things to consider. Firstly, as I explained above, if the cost associated with your bot making a mistake is significant, then this may not be the right path for you.

On the other hand, if you have high volumes of repetitive tasks and simple queries that lend themselves to standardised answers, then it would be worth giving it a try. This is especially true if your headcount is limited.

Finally, if you use forms or landing pages on your site and you would like to achieve higher conversion rates and ramp up lead generation, then go for it.

Setting up a bot is easy and there are plenty of low cost or free tools. Why not try one for a few days or weeks? You could consider embedding a bot on just a few pages to begin with.


Wendy Coombes

Written by Wendy Coombes

I help small business and independent professionals get started with digital marketing and marketing automation, so they can attract and close more of their ideal customers.