Chatbots: hot or not?

Five questions small businesses should ask before recruiting a chatbot

Rapid changes to technology mean solutions that used to only be available for enterprises are now becoming accessible for small businesses, too.

This is the trend we’re seeing with chatbots, which today can be one of the smartest investments a small business can make. Not only are they a cost-effective way to streamline straightforward, repetitive requests, they can also connect with a far broader market than a physical customer-service team.

According to Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey 2017, 88 per cent of Australians own a smartphone, with many using them to make online purchases. As consumer preferences continue to shift toward mobile platforms, it makes sense for small businesses to implement technologies that can adequately service this demand.

By helping a range of businesses welcome a new virtual assistant into their teams, we’ve experienced firsthand the benefits chatbot technologies can bring to businesses of all sizes.

Having said that, jumping into new technology just for the sake of using technology can be expensive and counterproductive. Before spending money and time setting up chatbots, you might find it useful to answer these five questions.

  • Why?

This might seem like too basic a question, but many businesses implement strategies out of a vague sense of “everyone else is doing it so we should too”. There are many benefits to using chatbots, from providing cost-effective “always on” customer service to creating efficiency by automating simple tasks to marketing towards a broader base.

Yet until you articulate exactly why you want to introduce a chatbot and have a solid idea of what it will achieve, it will be hard to measure its return on investment.

  • AI or command-based?

Chatbots based on artificial intelligence (AI) are more intuitive than traditional chatbot models and can answer complex questions and incomplete statements. Command-based chatbots have a set response to certain questions and although they are not as “smart” as AI-based chatbots, they can certainly perform routine tasks for simple and frequent requests.

“By helping a range of businesses welcome a new virtual assistant into their teams, we’ve experienced firsthand the benefits chatbot technologies can bring to businesses of all sizes.”

  • How much power will you give the chatbot?

Chatbots can be programmed to direct the customer to their desired product but, like a human sales team, they can also be empowered to upsell or cross-promote relevant items. Chatbots can also be used for data collection – at the beginning or end of the transaction they can ask for email details or for permission to send more information, leading to the creation of a subscription base you can tap into.

  • Should you develop your own app?

Leveraging existing apps can be useful and cost-effective, yet recent data security breaches have made customers and businesses alike hyper-aware of cybersecurity. As a result, many businesses are integrating chatbots within their own proprietary systems. There are a few ways of doing this: creating a separate, dedicated app; incorporating it as a tab into an existing app; or integrating the chatbot as a user interface (this is most commonly used when filling in forms or other straightforward tasks).

  • What is your brand’s personality?

Finally, the best type of chatbot is when customers are unaware they are not interacting with a human. To achieve this, the automated communication needs to be natural, seamless and believable. The chatbot should be the embodiment of the business. It literally speaks for your brand and it makes sense to create a chatbot that is polite, easy to understand and efficient – everything you’d want in an employee.

With today’s customers seeking out round-the-clock customer service, there is more pressure to move toward automated communication systems. In fact, Gartner predicts that some forms of intelligent automation will manage 85 per cent of businesses’ customer relationships by 2020, indicating the shift towards more effective business systems is well under way.

Chatbots can be an integral part of this engagement by providing a cost-effective “front-of-house” that is able to perform simple tasks automatically. In order to get the best value, it is essential to think about what exactly you want your strategy to achieve before rushing to implement these solutions.

Mark Troester, Vice President of strategy, Progress.

This story first appeared in issue 23 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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