“Chatbots” (short for “chat robots”), computer programs designed to simulate human conversation, have the potential to revolutionize the way companies communicate with their customers. Ever since tech giants Facebook and Microsoft announced chatbot offerings earlier this year, chatbot conversations are popping up everywhere—from Silicon Valley to Wall Street—and include explosive predictions for the future.
The allure is clear: Chatbots make it possible—through automation—for organizations to handle repetitive communication functions at a much faster rate than would be possible for humans. So, their would-be productivity and customer satisfaction benefits are driving businesses to develop their own customized chatbots.
Chatbots encourage customer engagement with brands because they offer users a convenient way (versus installing apps) to get the information they need (think weather forecasts and breaking news). Essentially, a chatbot is a user interface that can be plugged into a number of data sources via APIs so it can deliver information or services on demand.
Without a chatbot, for example, a user who wants the weather forecast might go to weather.com and type in a zip code. With a weather bot, on the other hand, users can send a chat in their messaging app (e.g., Kik, Snapchat and Tango) and the bot will reply with the most current information.
Perhaps the most famous example of a chatbot is Apple’s Siri. Like all chatbots, Siri uses a combination of pre-set scripts and neural networks to predict an accurate response to a posed question or statement, allowing users to skip steps when conversing. Siri is a very high-level chatbot that took years for a giant company with lots of resources to build. But companies without massive resources are finding that simpler, more utilitarian chatbots are just as effective.
Any company with a chatbot interacting in the marketplace has the opportunity to gain customer insights. More insights mean greater personalization of brand messaging, hence more targeted marketing that can drive sales. What’s more, your own chatbot can save money in the contact center by reducing the need for sales reps—or freeing them up for other business functions—except when necessary or requested as the chatbot experience matures (and the technology is developing quickly behind the scenes).
So, how can you mount your own chatbot offensive?
Imagine the opportunities when barriers to chatbot development are removed! Consider the airline industry, for example. As a customer, wouldn’t it be great to have your issues with lost luggage or flight delays addressed promptly by simply sending a chat instead of logging onto the airline’s website or installing its app?
Are you a small business? There’s a chatbot for you too. A mom and pop florist shop can employ a chatbot to answer questions, make gift suggestions and process orders. There’s hardly a service organization you can name—from movie theaters to taxi companies to pizza delivery venues—that wouldn’t somehow benefit from a chatbot. Think about how a chatbot can enhance the customer experience with your brand.
While chatbots may not replace the app experience entirely, they do offer a more flexible way for businesses to interact with users, and enhance the experience at the same time. While, the technology is far from enabling seamless customer interactions right now, businesses should keep a close eye on its progress to stay ahead of the competition.
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