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How SMBs are using chatbots to improve customer service

How SMBs are using chatbots to improve customer service

Posted 21st September, 2018 by Aidan

At the end of 2017, the world’s tech and business media collectively christened 2018 as The Year of The Chatbot and – so far – they’ve been proved right, especially as far as customer service is concerned.

Over the course of the year increasing numbers of the world’s Fortune 500 companies have embraced chatbot technology with a mind to improve their customer service offering.

Most notably, in June, Walmart launched a chatbot called Jetblack to customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn to help them with their personal shopping.

It’s not just big businesses that are weaving chatbots, either. According to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025, as both large and small to medium sized businesses adopt chatbot tech.

So what exactly are chatbots?

In a nutshell, a chatbot is a computer program or an artificial intelligence that’s designed to interact with humans in a naturalistic way. The programme replicates human conversation either by text or audio means in order to communicate. Companies embed chatbots into their websites or social media channels to interact with customers.

To date, research by Gartner indicates that 60 per cent of millennials have used a chatbot and 70 per cent of these people report positive experiences of using them. Plus, of the millennials who have not used them, the Gartner research suggests that more than half say they are interested in using them.

Why are chatbots becoming popular with the public?

There are multiple reasons why chatbots are becoming popular. Firstly, consumers are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to customer service. They want to be able to contact businesses and companies 24 hours a day rather than just in business hours. For most, instantly communicating with a chatbot is better than waiting to talk to a real person.

Secondly, human interactions are changing. Millennials are increasingly becoming known as The Mute Generation because of their dislike of physically talking to people in certain circumstances. Studies have particularly shown that millennials don’t like making phone calls. Research shows that while three quarters of adults in the UK own smartphones, 25 per cent of them don’t use them to make calls. Using a chatbot means they don’t have to speak to anyone.

Thirdly, apps are falling out of favour. A study earlier this year surveyed 1,000 adults aged 18 to 34 to get their opinions on chatbots and chatbot usage. Almost all of those surveyed said they preferred using a chatbot to an app. Those involved said chatbots were better than apps for convenience, ease of communication, and out of hours service.

How do companies use chatbots to improve customer service?

Customer support

Whether you add your chatbot to your website or a social media site like Facebook you can use it as your frontline for customer support. At the simplest level, you can programme your chatbot to ask the first fact-finding questions of a support call before forwarding the customer to the most relevant member of your support team to take the next steps.

At a slightly more detailed level, you can programme your chatbot to be able to answer simple frequently asked questions, freeing up your usual support staff to deal with more complicated enquiries or other aspects of their job.

Or, if your business involves tech or other complicated subjects, you can programme your chatbot to direct customers towards knowledge base articles.

Taking orders

Chatbots can be programmed to take sales orders and reservations. Taco Bell in the USA has a chatbot called TacoBot that’s available to anyone who uses the Slack chat application at work. It lets busy workers order their lunch without picking up the phone.

Payment taking options can also be added into chatbots so they can take customers through the entire sales process.

Personal shopping

Chatbots can be programmed to act as a personal shopper to customers. For example, a customer on a fashion site can tell the chatbot they’re looking for a black dress and the chatbot can suggest a range of options. They can even be programmed to upsell to customers. Recent research from HubSpot suggests that 47 per cent of shoppers are open to buying items from a bot.

Customer engagement

With every interaction a customer has with a chatbot, a company can start to build up a cache of personal information about that person. They can then use this information in future communications to increase customer loyalty.

Take the personal shopping experience above. Say the customer who bought the black dress comes back a week later looking for another dress. She tells the chatbot she’s looking for another dress. The chatbot can deliver a personalised response, asking if she’d like to see black ones like last time or options in a different colour.

A little bit of everything

Some businesses have chatbots that serve multiple functions. Marriott International, for example, has a chatbot that’s available through Facebook Messenger and Slack that allows Rewards members to book travel to more than 4,700 hotels. It also supplies holiday inspiration by directing them to certain articles in Marriott’s digital magazine Marriott Traveller.

Where can small businesses get chatbots from?

As chatbot technology is still in its ascendency there’s not a huge range of off the peg options, especially for beginners. At the moment, setting up a chatbot in Facebook is nowhere near as easy as setting up ads, for example.

The DIY chatbot builder that’s often said to be the easiest to use is Chatfuel.

If your business has an in-house tech team, developer or web designer, there’s a good chance that person or team will be able to whip you up a chatbot in a couple of days. They’ll also be able to find their way around chatbot development platforms like Dialogflow, which allows you to build a chatbot into your website, mobile app, or Facebook page.

If your operation is smaller, and you have no web development experience, you’re best bet is to outsource the chatbot development to an expert company.

Categories: Blogging, Marketing, Small Businesses

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