Smartphones, 3D printers, drones. Technology that seemed to only live in sci-fi movies is now commonplace in the real world. The evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is in full swing, and the business world is taking notice.
Organizations small and large have the same goals: maximize productivity, increase brand awareness, and drive profitability (apart from nonprofits, of course). We’re all looking for ways to streamline business, marketing, and customer service in convenient, automated ways.
Remember Clippy, the paperclip “virtual assistant” that came with Microsoft Office in the ‘90s? Clippy was basically the very first chat bot. And while the technology was great in theory, it wasn’t intelligent enough to be useful — and didn’t know when to shut up. Clippy lacked the ability to interact on a more human level. It couldn’t provide the answers we wanted. Fortunately, chatbots have improved greatly since then. Let’s get up to speed, shall we?
What’s a Chatbot?
Today’s chatbots are yesterday’s Clippy. They interface with smartphones and computers, communicate with you via text message, help you book vacations — and they can do it all with your voice, a click or a tap (or both…hello, Alexa!).
Businesses worldwide are using this intelligent technology to get closer to clients, communicate with customers, and connect with colleagues.
Here are just a few ways companies are putting chatbots to work:
Analytics and Metrics:
Connect your analytics platforms into the chatbot to put all your data in one place, which helps increase user engagement, acquisition, and monetization.
Book flights, ground transportation, hotels, and even dinner reservations all within your platform.
Chatbots can assist or replace customer service reps. They can answer simple questions, help open support tickets, and send notifications to your team when more advanced issues arise.
Bookkeeping and Data Entry:
Automate data entry from financial and non-financial platforms into a reporting tool for all-in-one data dashboards. For instance, perhaps you have a single company credit card that employees use for company-related purchases. Instead of filing a request, waiting around for it to be approved and waiting even longer to get the card information to them, team members can simply interact with a bot, which automates the whole process through your project management system (i.e. Slack).
The possibilities are plentiful, but should you invest in this technology? Most businesses believe so. According to Juniper Research, chatbots will be involved in 85 percent of all types of business-customers interaction by 2020. What’s more, 42 percent of consumers already use digital assistants, while 72 percent of business execs and 53 percent of millennials use them.
Not only do consumers prefer them, but it’s also predicted that chatbots will be responsible for cost savings of over $8 billion annually by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017.
And don’t be fooled into thinking it’s some luxury only enterprise businesses can afford. But are chatbots the right option for your needs?
To ‘bot or Not to ‘bot?
If you’re on the fence about integrating a chatbot for your business, you’re not alone. Let’s consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of this revolutionary technology.
Chatbots can make it easier for your customers to find the answers they need by being available on your website and/or Facebook page(s). Better yet, they’re always on. Thanks to automation, they’re available to customers 24/7. You can’t beat that if your target audience is looking for answers at three in the morning.
Have you visited a website and seen a window pop up shortly after, asking if you needed help? That’s a chatbot. With this kind of bot, you can deliver significantly faster service, even when your customer services team is busy or offline.
A chatbot can save you a significant amount of time and money. They can deliver quick customer support, higher customer satisfaction, and bigger bottom lines. Humans have more limitations when it comes to handling more than one person at a time. A well-designed chatbot, though, can handle ten customer inquiries at once. This way, you’re doing more with less
Consider the pop-up window. You may find them helpful while others find them annoying. That pop-up could easily remind someone of an advertisement, turning them off and shooing them away. Or, it could pop up at an inconvenient moment for the end user, which means they’re more likely to close it without using it.
Some of us remember the days of rotary phones and dial-up, while others don’t remember a world without internet. A more tech-savvy generation may expect to find a chatbot on your website, while some still prefer human interaction on the now old-fashioned telephone. Be sure to consider your audience demographics before you adopt this technology, or provide options that service multiple segments equally..
Unfortunately, chatbot technology has yet to be perfected. These digital sidekicks may be human-like, but that means they’re capable of mistakes, too. Microsoft’s follow-up to Clippy was Tay, which ended up being manipulated by pranksters who figured out how to teach it to share racist comments and post them to the masses.
While it’s unlikely that your chatbot will cause an issue of that magnitude, it may very well misunderstand a customer’s question or provide unrelated information. This can frustrate users and ultimately cost you customers.
While mistakes are possible, it should be noted that some chatbots are built to become smarter with use (known as machine learning, which we’ll get to shortly). Over time, these bots become more in tune with your customer’s needs and have a growing database of information to work with. And what business owner or marketing manager couldn’t use that?
Better for Some than Others
Ultimately, chatbots work better for some businesses than others. Just as Star Trek’s Captain Piccard could get tea by simply saying, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” to the replicator, a restaurant could use a bot to deliver your favorite dishes to your door with very little effort. One great example is Domino’s Pizza’s Twitter profile. Domino’s allows customers to order pizza by simply sharing an emoji. The Domino’s bots then route those orders and ask additional questions if necessary. Your company, however, may provide more complicated services that require more human interaction.
Let’s not forget about function and cost. There are two kinds of chatbots, one that functions by a set of rules and the other that uses more advanced machine learning.
Rule-based bots are rather limited. They’re only as intelligent as they’re programmed to be and can only respond to very specific commands. Ask the wrong question or use the wrong word, and it may get confused (“Where can I find the best chips in town,” asked by someone from England may give them a list of potato chips, when they’re really looking for french fries.) ever, they can be very useful for more simplistic tasks, like providing news updates, reminders, or messaging.
Machine-learning bots are legit AI. They have an artificial brain, so you don’t have to be ultra-specific with your interaction because it understands language rather than just commands. Just like people, they get smarter the more they learn and the more you use them.
Whether you’re building your own, having a company build one for you, or utilizing some of the free bots floating around the web, there is a chatbot for every budget. It’s just up to you to determine how deep you want to dive. Some of the most successful chatbots for business include:
Start a Conversation with or without a Chatbot
While chatbots may not be in your company’s future, AI in some form certainly is. Whether you’d like to set up your email marketing to send automated messages or, even better, coordinate your system to send an email at the exact moment your subscriber is most likely to check their inbox, it seems anything is possible in our new digital world.
If you want to see what’s possible for your business, Robly wants to chat. As a leading innovator in small business marketing automation, we invented OpenGen and the artificial intelligence sending technology Robly AI. We know what AI can do, and we want to put it to work for you.
If you haven’t already, get started with Robly for free.