Does your business need a Chatbot?

This article was published originally at rocketbots.io

Chatbots are useful for a growing number of use cases. But you shouldn’t invest in one if it is not going to work for you. So, let’s discuss some use cases and industries.

With messengers, there is an opportunity to create valuable direct touch points with customers. However, as customers continue to query through messengers and the volume of communications grows, they become difficult to handle. Mercifully, chatbots can respond to standard queries faithfully and allow businesses to be more responsive to customers.

Here are some factors to consider if you are thinking about a chatbot:

  • How much does your business rely on customer communication? Are you constantly in contact with customers? The higher the need for constant contact, the more likely a Chatbot serves the purpose well.
  • What level of engagement does communication with your customers require? Chatbots are great at answering inquiries accurately and quickly. If you receive many repeat inquiries from customers, you should have built your Chatbot yesterday! However, if your customers require answers to questions that rarely repeat, a chatbot may not be the best solution.
  • How do your customers want to communicate with you? Forget chatbots for a second, communicating with brands or businesses over messenger is an emerging concept for many folks. If you cater to customers who are excited about tech, a chatbot would make an excellent addition to your customer communication arsenal.

Some businesses don’t have the need or desire to communicate with their customers through messenger yet, but they should be looking forward to it. Successful interactions through this channel have the potential to keep complaints away from social sites if customer concerns can be dealt with quickly. The same can be said about helping customers with information discovery, helping to push them further down the sales pipeline. Adopting messenger can make businesses better at communication and ultimately more competitive.

Enough about interactions and business communication, let’s dive into some sample use cases.

What Can a Chatbot do anyway?

Knowledge and News

Chatbots are great at retrieving information, even from unstructured sources. Google Search, which is perhaps the biggest and most ambitious chatbot built yet, is incredible at fetching news. Simply type ‘NBA scores from last night’ and Google shows you the scores for all the games. If you would rather have the scores for only one game, that’s doable too. The only thing left for Google Search to become a chatbot as we know it today, is for it to be able to understand your response to a search result, which is only possible through Google Now.

News apps were some of the first to add that functionality. Chatbots from CNN, TechCrunch and Washington Post fetch news about topics that you ask for, allowing you to narrow down your interests through further conversation.

Knowledge isn’t just about the news, there are other apps trying to leverage chatbot technology to deliver information in more creative and in many cases, useful ways. Duolingo is one of those apps, allowing users to learn a language by having simple conversations with the app. These conversations grow in difficulty as you go along, allowing you to learn a language while using the app on your morning commutes.

e-Commerce

There is a growing movement out there that supports a shift to ‘conversational commerce’. Conversational commerce means exactly what you think it means, commerce through a conversation, like at a physical retail location. Ideally, chatbots would be able to do a consultative selling, but we’re not quite there yet.

Chatbots can help reduce some of the hassles of online stores. If you’re like me, you remember the countless times when an online website did not have the filters you wanted and the search bar didn’t really work. Chatbots can alleviate much of the time wasted by filtering a list of products by using a single sentence search string. “ Show me formal black shirts with mandarin collars from brands A, B, and X that are in stock at store Y”. Today, you may need 20 minutes on a website and some time on the phone to get that kind of reply. A chatbot would give it to you instantly.

Some retailers have already seen the potential and released chatbots. Nordstrom, Zulily and Chubbies all have bots of their own. Although you can search for products with some, these retailers mostly use them for resolving customer problems and giving information like shipping updates.

We see chatbots in eCommerce as a potentially double-edged sword. The temptation of advertising through the direct channel of a messenger will probably be too strong for some companies. This can turn a potentially valuable tool into a dud, as on Facebook Messenger, for example, bots that are reported for spamming by users are banned from the platform.

Storytelling

Up until recently, most chatbots were only created to be used for fun or as a novelty. Talk to a bot is if you had made a friend or if you feel more adventurous take the discussion to another level by changing the topic slightly as you go along and form a mini story as you go. A well-spoken bot can be a great entertainer.

More recently talking bots have been harnessed as marketing tools to create hype around upcoming games, shows and movies. The Game of Thrones Survival Bot creates show scenarios while you chat. Can you survive in George RR Martin’s fiercely competitive and dangerous world? Video games are also launching bots to market their games. Call of Duty is one of the first to explore this promotional tool, allowing users to explore the storyline of their upcoming release.

The informational structure of these storytelling bots is a great example of how bots actually work. Much like a choose your own story book, every point in the bots conversational story is a node. Each node has several branches going to further nodes. The bot chooses where the story goes based on the responses of the user. Having many nodes at every branch creates the illusion that every story is unique to the user who goes through it. But this means a story is only as good as the nodes and branches designed, the chatbot is only a facilitator.

Organizational Use

In terms of messenger services, slack was a really early adopter of chatbots. There are numerous bots available on the Slack platform and more are being added every day. These bots are usually designed to make day to day office life easier and improve efficiency or productivity. Although bots only came around a short time ago, there are already bots for virtually every office activity.

Ace bot can create and monitor polls and meetings. Tomotobot helps you keep track of your everyday tasks and informs you of today’s progress for you and your team periodically. Worklife bot, knows your calendar and sees your email, every morning it sends you a summary of how your day is going to look like.

Other Chatbots

Other industries are slowly warming up to Chatbots, just like with any new technology, there are a few risk takers who move first and based on their success, others will follow suit. Some industries, which deal with sensitive information are the last to adopt new technologies. These industries are generally from the banking and financial services.

However, some banks have already started releasing their bots in the last few months. A typical banking chatbot can provide you answers to questions like the balance of your account, loan installments to be paid etc. Some of the bots can also give you answers to far more complex questions like, “how much have I spent on groceries over the last 6 months?”

The industry is still new, it has only been half a year since Facebook allowed the integration of bots on its messenger. But there has already been explosive growth and if the trend continues, almost all industries will discover the utility of chatbots in their domain. In that case, we expect a rapid expansion of chatbot use cases in the coming years, particularly where consumers are involved.

How about a Chatbot of your own?

If you find similarities in your business and the cases above, it probably got you thinking about how you can use chatbots to improve your own business.

Will it differentiate you from your competitors?

The world we live continues to change at an ever quickening pace and it’s becoming more entrepreneurial too. Competitive advantage is getting harder to sustain and simply adopting the newest technology is not enough. Although it helps to be a first mover, it’s how you apply technology that matters. When applied properly, chatbots are a competitive differentiator in an area where technology doesn’t always fare well, customer service. Customer acquisition and more importantly retention are heavily dependent on good customer service. This is an area that generally requires a lot of investment and has many catch 22s. You want quality customer service, but employees get bored with answering the same questions over and over, so when the complex ones come along, they’re half asleep. So to reduce those simple questions you add a lot of information to your website, making it cluttered and sometimes hard to navigate. Chatbots can relieve a lot of that strain.

What customer service benefits can you expect from a chatbot?

  • Prompt responses to customers — chatbots can work as fast or as slow as you desire. Without the need for thinking and typing, chatbots can respond the way AOL once promised instantly.
  • Cost effective — for those large volume queries chatbots are more cost effective than customer care agents. Even with complex questions, a chatbot is cost effective when figuring in development, deployment, maintenance and support costs, given a high enough volume.
  • 24X7 Support — Chatbots don’t need bathroom breaks, lunch breaks or sick leave, they happily work 24 hours a day.
  • Improved response quality — when the trivial queries are handled by a chatbot, you can leave the other questions to the most experienced and helpful employees
  • Great Analytics — With its ability to understand natural language and codify it, chatbots can provide a vast swath of information about customers that can be used everywhere from product development to cost reduction.

This article was published originally at Rocketbots.

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