Technology is exploding, and some of the latest innovations are so jaw-droppingly unbelievable that they seem more like something out of an Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novel than reality. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, Mars exploration – the list goes on.
Fortunately, some of these advancements in technology make it easier for a business to automate internal processes.
Chatbots, for instance, are one of the newest trending automation tools that small businesses should definitely consider implementing.
I'd wager that you've already seen them, if not talked with them...whether you knew it or not.
And to be honest, chatbots aren't a brand spanking new technology. But in the past, they were too rigid and only had narrow responses.
Plus, talking to a bot isn't exactly fun, intriguing, nor the greatest customer service you'll ever receive.
Luckily, advancements in technology have made them both affordable and intuitive. I'm a big fan and highly recommend using chatbots to start conversations about your brand, services, and products.
And if you haven't implemented a chatbot yet, you probably have a few questions. Today we're going to take a closer look at why chatbots are important and how they can benefit your business.
Automated Response to Customer Inquiries
The first benefit chatbots offer businesses is an automated way to respond to customers' questions. Even if you diligently spell everything out for your customers in great detail on your website, some visitors may not want to take the time and effort to dig through content and find the information on their own.
For a new startup, this might not be a huge pain point.
But as the business scales and your website grows, keeping up with customer's questions can eat up a lot of man-hours. Instead of needing to hire a full fledged customer support center, chatbots can be implemented to ease the pain of manually answering simple questions.
No, they're still not perfect, but chatbots can provide more than a 90% accuracy rating, saving time that you could better spend growing your business.
Using a tool like ManyChat, you can set up keywords to trigger certain automations.
Someone looking for a yellow dress? Send them a link to your dress page with the colors already filtered.
Someone asking about their shipment? Have them put in their tracking number and return the UPS info right inside your chat window.
Someone want to take advantage of a special download offer? Have them put in their email address and deliver it to them immediately.
Right now, it's pretty tough staying on top of the whirlwind of social media comments. Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more, it can be a full time job just trying to respond to all of your leads in a timely manner. Failing to respond to a customer query in time could make your lead feel like you don't care about them, when instead you're just swamped trying to keep up with floods of messages, comments, and tags.
But chatbots can help your users feel as though they're being looked after and taken care of, instead of ignored. Again, I'll admit that chatbots aren't perfect, but you can fine tune and optimize them to engage your customers.
Social Networks Lose Ground to Messaging Applications
Social networks are still great ways to reach customers. But believe it or not, messaging apps have now overtaken social networks.
This shouldn't be a real big surprise, either, when you consider your own personal daily use of communications technologies. In fact, most of the big social media giants have incorporated messaging apps into their social media platforms.
Just think about how many times a day you use a technology like Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, WeChat, and other similar products.
Messaging app usage is trending higher and higher. Users are not only comfortable with using chat services to communicate with others, it seems many users now prefer them. As such, it only makes sense to add a chat interface to your website to keep up with the latest trends.
Older style chatbots were little more than simple decision making programs that spit out text in response to defined input. These types of messaging programs weren't very accurate, and sometimes lead to some rather cryptic or unintelligible responses that confused users.
But with the latest advancements in AI, chatbots are getting pretty darn smart.
Some chatbots hand off a conversation to a human operator based on some extremely complex computer code, or a set of pre-defined parameters.
There have been times when I wondered whether or not I was talking to a real human being, but couldn't find any red flags that identified the representative as a chatbot. To be perfectly blunt, the code is finally to a point where it feels natural to most people...and it's becoming more refined every day.
Yes, it still requires initial planning and programming by a human, but with a strong plan in place it works phenomenally.
Here's a simple example of a chatbot exchange that ends up with a human 'on the line'.
The cast of Shark Tank have tongue in cheek saying. "What time is selling time? It's always selling time."
But within the scope of human beings, that isn't necessarily true. We can't be in two places at once, and there are limits to how much we can effectively multi-task. Plus, most of us sleep about seven hours each night. There are limits to how often business owners and employees can respond to sales queries. If you're a small business, chances are you don't have a dedicated sales department.
Depending on your product or service, it might make sense to implement chatbots to increase sales. True enough, I must admit that chatbots really succeed in improving sales with low involvement products - those that lack the necessity of a salesman to hold the customers hand and educate them on the product. For instance, a car sale is not a low involvement sale. On the other hand, the sale of a digital service (such as a new domain namel) is a very low involvement sale.
A Chance to Stay Ahead of the Curve
It's clear to digital marketers like myself that chatbots are going to be around for the near future, and likely grow even more in the long term. Since they still aren't implemented by the majority of websites, you can position yourself with a competitive advantage over others in your industry.
I'm not suggesting that all you need to do to crush your competition is to add a chatbot to your site. But every little bit helps, and it's better to be an early adopter than a latecomer.
We've seen so many changes in SEO and web development over the years, and I'm not only referring to Google algorithms. Just look at all the websites that lost relevant rankings because they didn't add mobile friendliness and a responsive design until it was too late.
It's Another List
Most chat/messenger systems keep an ongoing list of who has used the system, etc. In many cases, users have to subscribe (or are automatically subscribed) in order to engage in a conversation with the bot. Yes, they can opt out at any time, but most don't.
This becomes another list that you can then send updates, new content, and specials to.
For businesses with a younger audience, this is big news. They love to have that immediate interaction with a brand, and they don't mind if it's a bot, as long as their questions get answered.
Don't Ignore Chatbots Too Much Longer
Whether you like it or not, chatbots are gaining traction. And with all the advancement in AI technologies – especially at Google – I expect chatbots to get bigger and bigger. There's just one question you need to ask yourself: do you really want to be left behind by not becoming an early adopter? The alternative is getting left behind in the dust, which could negatively impact your bottom line.