Opinions are swirling over the coming AI revolution. While much of the focus and discussion has been on jobs, where automation stands to displace a significant portion of the labor market, a more fundamental change is coming, and sooner than you think.
As it becomes easier than ever before to leverage advances in AI, more and more companies are turning to chatbots as a way to help customers find what they’re looking for, get the help they need, or even schedule a service. It’s never been easier to create a bot, even with no coding experience—and the savings add up quickly.
Chatbots provide the opportunity to make your business easier to interact with, helping you and your customers get things done more quickly and simply than ever before.
What Chatbots Can Do, and What They Can’t
There are a lot of options to get started with chatbots. But before evaluating the available options, start by considering what you’re actually trying to achieve with your bot. There are a lot of things that chatbots are great at, and some things that you might need to think through a little before implementing.
Let’s start out with a simple question: what is a chatbot? A chatbot is a program that communicates with a user via text, in conversational language. It understands some or all of what the user is saying, and then responds. To be useful, it needs to have access to information— your calendar, your inventory, your frequently asked questions, etc. A chatbot doesn’t necessarily need to have AI, but it saves a lot of work and aggravation.
The most important thing to understand about chatbots—regardless of their level of sophistication—is that at the end of the day, they’re still a user interface. They’re a way for a user to get information or perform an action. Your website is a different UI. Both are constrained by the information and actions available to them.
Chatbots in Action
Let’s say that you’re looking for a job. On a website, you might need to do some poking around in the About section, or perhaps in Human Resources—or maybe the information isn’t there at all, as jobs get posted straight to a different platform. Because a company’s website is generally not designed solely to make it easy to apply for a job, there’s not necessarily a direct path from the landing page to what you’re looking for, so you may have to hunt for the information you need.
With a chatbot, finding this information is a much simpler process: just ask. Assuming the chatbot has access to the right information, it should get back to you with a link to the right place, whether it’s on the website, through a third party service, or simply a message that you’re not currently hiring. In fact, with some input from HR, you could even have it funnel the user based on their skills so that their inquiry hits the right inbox.
This example highlights why chatbots are so powerful— they offer an individualized experience with your company. A website, even with a very focused design, needs to appeal a more general audience. This also highlights another important fact, though: a chatbot is only as good as the information it has.
Planning for Success
Making a chatbot that succeeds beyond your wildest dreams comes down to one thing: planning. You need to figure out what you want your bot to be good at and focus on that. Will it help users navigate your inventory? Give answers to common questions and only escalate to a human if necessary?
As Heiko Waechter from the digital design agency Huge says, “conversational interfaces can be powerful and effective when they are deployed in the right context and designed for the right use case. On the flip side, these interfaces can potentially get in the way of a user or be viewed as gimmicky or even frustrating when they are not thoughtfully designed.” Narrow your focus, and you’ll be more successful.
On the flip side, you need to make sure that there is a way for the bot to recognize that it’s run up against its limitations. If your FAQ answers aren’t solving a customer’s problem, you want to make it easy for the bot to hand off the chat to someone who can help. People don’t mind robots if they’re helpful and not pretending to be something they’re not; they get annoyed when they feel like they’re being given the runaround.
What You Can Do Right Now
Chatbots stand to revolutionize the way that customers interact with businesses. They make it easier than ever to offer a personalized experience with your company, with a staggering number of options for channels. It’s worth it to try a few out for yourself and see if this technology could be right for you.
Keep in mind that a chatbot is just a different form of UI, a way of getting information or getting something done.
Narrow your focus and figure out what you want a chatbot to do well.
Plan carefully, and build in ways to get in touch with a human.
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