Chatbots Are the Future, and the Future Is Now
At this point, chatbots have proven themselves as valuable marketing assets that represent the future of online messaging. However, far too many businesses still hesitate to implement chatbots out of fear they’ll seem impersonal and alienate customers, despite research that shows 45% of end users prefer chatbots as the primary mode of communication for customer service activities.
If you’ve resisted chatbots to this point, it’s time to reassess your thinking. Keep reading to learn what chatbots are, how they work, and how they can generate new and better leads as well as a sizable return on a minimal investment.
What Are Chatbots?
Chatbots are sophisticated pieces of software capable of completing a wide range of complex messaging tasks, but defining these bots is relatively simple: A chatbot is a messaging program capable of automating discussions with site visitors and certain other digital functions on your behalf.
The simplest chatbots execute pre-programmed dialogue with end users based on certain linguistic rules the bots receive during their creation. For instance, when someone visits your site, the chatbot greets them and asks how they can help. Based on specific keywords in the user’s response, the bot will respond with one of several predetermined messages or ask for more information so it can provide a more accurate and helpful response.
In recent years, many chatbots have become powered by artificial intelligence, which means they can execute much more nuanced conversations and perform other functions to serve a wider range of users. This results in more intuitive and customized responses over time as the program becomes more intelligent, leading to more useful discussions and enhanced user experience.
For instance, the popular Siri and Alexa functionality on Apple and Amazon devices, respectively, are essentially nothing more than high-end chatbots. They process your voice as an input, scan the internet and databases for information, and provide output in the form of answers to your questions. Most chatbots aren’t as advanced as Siri or Alexa, but they still have value and operate on a fundamentally similar level.
How Can Chatbots Improve Your Business Model?
Originally, chatbots functioned primarily as a form of customer service, but they have evolved to the point where they can now interact with customers in a multitude of ways. Most notably, they can serve as content marketing tools. Writers can now work with programmers to develop chatbot programs that promote their company’s brand and offer real-time solutions to users’ most pressing needs.
According to HubSpot, modern chatbots operate and optimize along a series of four distinct phases in a larger framework.
- First, chatbots connect with their intended audience by engaging them through a messaging app and building off previous records to add further context.
- Next, the chatbot begins to better understand the user’s speech by asking filtering questions designed to elicit useful responses.
- Third, the chatbot uses its refined understanding to deliver a solution to the user’s problem directly through the messaging app.
- Lastly, the chatbot continues to refine its ability to understand and solve problems based on its interactions with users.
Over time, the process continually repeats, with each iteration yielding a more intelligent chatbot with better ability to provide useful automated responses. The goal is for the chatbot to automate numerous tasks within a single messaging application and in a matter of seconds. For instance, the chatbot can integrate with existing apps to triage your user’s problem, direct them to a webpage that will help them learn more, suggest alternative solutions, and provide contact information for company personnel if necessary — all in one session.
Soon, users will no longer have to complete tedious online forms, scrounge through their cluttered email inbox, or embark on a wild goose chase across a convoluted website to find the information they need. Instead, they’ll be able to receive answers to common questions directly through each site’s messenger app. And since chatbots are designed to be helpful and direct rather than ambiguous and self-serving, end users might once again learn to trust ad content and marketing professionals rather than suspecting them of having sales-based agendas. In other words, everyone involved wins.
Developing a Flow Chart for Your Website’s Chatbot
The lengthiest and most important part of creating and installing a chatbot on your website involves performing a comprehensive inventory of your products and services to predetermine what your customers might be looking for. From there, you’ll need to create a flow chart that will provide users with useful answers within just a few direct questions. Over time, you should continue to tweak your hypothetical dialogue based on observed user behavior and tracked data to provide better service and better user outcomes with minimal effort.
Regardless of which tasks you want your bot to perform, it needs to give users accurate and appropriate content. If the user requests information about a given topic and receives information about something unrelated, your user will interpret that response as indicative of your services or products in general and take their business elsewhere.
This means your questions need to be tailored to the user, and they should begin as open-ended queries that are designed to get a firm grasp on the user’s need before quickly narrowing to more specific questions that elicit more specific answers. Your responses should also include multiple-choice style answers to aid in specificity. For instance, if you own a clothing boutique, your bot might start by asking “How can we help you today?” and then provide a series of three or four choices, such as “women’s clothing,” “men’s clothing,” “shoes,” and “accessories.” Answering this basic question will place potential consumers in an ideal position to make a purchase.
The general rule of thumb is that your users should arrive at a helpful solution within three to five volleys of question-and-answer with your chatbot. If the bot can’t interpret their questions and resolve the issue accurately within that window, it should redirect the customer to a default page that may be able to solve their problem, like an FAQ or contact page.
When Bots Work Together
There are two primary types of chatbots:
Informational bots direct users to helpful pages on your website so they can receive more information about a certain product line or service area. These bots can also trigger news alerts related to your business type or suggest signing up for your company’s newsletter.
As the name implies, utility bots help users perform a specific function based on their needs. For instance, let’s say you own an auto body shop. A utility bot might ask your users what sort of car they drive, what problems they’re experiencing, and whether they would like to schedule an appointment. The bot could even suggest available time slots with preferred mechanics. From there, your potential customer can reserve a time slot without speaking with a representative or visiting another, more complicated page on your website.
Depending on your business model, one or both types of bots could prove helpful to your customers and create efficiencies within your company, thus boosting return on investment and affording your employees more time to focus on their primary tasks.
The web offers many affordable (even free) bot-builder applications that are easy to install and use, which means the biggest challenge at this point lies in developing a chatbot that feels intuitive and conversational. This is where your operations team and your content developers need to work together to create messaging that is approachable, helpful, and appropriate for the situation.
You want the messages your bot delivers to your current and prospective customers to be prompt and accurate while also representing your brand’s dynamic voice and tone. Accomplishing this will require you to research your user’s most common needs and questions and then develop automated responses that answer those questions in a friendly or even playful (but still helpful and professional) fashion.
If you’re dealing with a rules-based chatbot platform, remember to update your software’s flowchart periodically whenever you complete a site audit or update your services or product line. And if your chatbot utilizes artificial intelligence, you should continually work with your developers to ensure the program is operating correctly and updating itself as designed. Dated chatbots provide dated information, and inaccurate and ineffective information will drive your customers away from your site and into the waiting arms of your competition.
Looking for Help Generating New Leads? Contact LaFleur Today
At LaFleur, our writers and developers work together to create useful chatbots that perform valuable functions, benefitting your users and your company alike. If you’re looking to automate your customer service initiatives or create a more intuitive user experience for your former, current, and potential clients or customers, we can help you create versatile chatbots that are uniquely customized for your industry and your brand.
If you’d like to talk with someone from our team about developing and installing chatbots on your website or any other digital marketing initiative (including social media, content marketing, email automation, paid advertising, and many more), please reach out today to schedule a conversation where we can discuss your needs and outline potential solutions. To get in touch, just complete this brief form or call (888) 222-1512.
Ceisel, M. (2018, April 5). 3 chatbot statistics you should know. Mindtouch. Retrieved from https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/chatbot-market
Kreuser, A.P. (2016, August 30). What are chatbots? 6 things you need to know right now. Inc. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/amanda-pressner-kreuser/wtf-are-chatbots-6-things-you-need-to-know-right-now.html
Why chatbots are the future of marketing: Battle of the bots. (n.d.). HubSpot. Retrieved from https://www.hubspot.com/stories/chatbot-marketing-future