Chatbots have been an interesting technology for a long time. Back in the beginning days of the internet, many instant messengers had some function of a chatbot, usually able to do simple searches to assist their users. You could ask what the weather was like outside, the time, or to look up the phone number of a local pizzeria.
Then, for a time, chatbots were left behind. They didn’t really fulfill a need in our world of technology other than to entertain us with silly responses like those from Cleverbot.
That has all changed, though, with the announcement from Facebook of their interest in using chatbots in conjunction with their Messenger services. Very quickly, chatbots have become a buzzword in social media marketing, with many being excited about the possibilities.
But, are chatbots the right fit for your business? Here’s what chatbots are exactly, and how they can fit into your marketing.
Chatbots are software designed to allow an artificial intelligence (AI) program to interact with humans. This interaction can be done through text, like instant messenger chatbots of old, or through voice commands like Siri or Alexa.
Chatbots can fulfill a variety of needs. They can handle simple tasks like texting a friend for you while you drive, helping you find a movie on Netflix, ordering an Uber for you, or communicating and affecting IoT devices in your home.
The only limitations chatbots have is how complex their AI programming is. A more advanced AI can handle more complex requests and act more human. The ideal goal is that it would be impossible to tell if you were communicating with a human or a chatbot.
One simple use for chatbots is to utilize them in customer support. Twenty-four-seven support is always a great feature for a business to have, but can become expensive to supply. But, chatbots could provide some form of customer support after hours.
Now, current AI technologies are limited, so customer support chatbots can’t handle highly complicated requests. If your customers often come with in-depth problems needing to be solved, chatbots might not help. But, if many complaints are simple in nature and can be solved by a chatbot referring them to a webpage with the solution, or by explaining it themselves, it could be valuable.
If you do decide to utilize a chatbot, be transparent about it, and have an option where, if the chatbot cannot solve the problem, a customer can have their case forwarded to a human customer support representative.
Chatbots are designed to help fill a role, and one major role in the sales world is helping customers find the exact product they are looking for. It’s why sites like Amazon recommend products similar to what users search to help them find the perfect fit.
But, chatbots could help this process by helping customers identify the qualities they are looking for in a product and recommend ones that fit. A good example of this kind of chatbot is “And Chill,” a chatbot designed to pick out what to watch on Netflix based on your tastes and preferences.
This style of chatbot would flourish for an eCommerce site with tons of products. By asking questions and determining things like desired price range, a chatbot could find and lead customers to the perfect product to fit their needs. It’s even possible for a chatbot to remember those preferences, so if the customer comes back, the chatbot can better serve them.
Another aspect to be aware of is that, in the future, chatbots will have an impact on marketing, even if you don’t create one. As virtual assistant chatbots like Siri and Alexa become more prevalent, marketers will find ways to target them.
As people ask these helper chatbots for answers, they will have to pull their answers from somewhere. Some might pull from a private database, but most will use a search engine to find the answers.
So how do you ensure your content is chosen? Well it would make sense that chatbots would choose their answers like how Google creates Featured Snippets. They want answers that simply answer the question but go into further detail with research to back it up.
Similar to Featured Snippets, chatbots could help drive traffic to sites that get selected to provide answers. Optimizing your content for search engines is a needed part to get featured by a chatbot.
You might be asking yourself, “Why do I need to get a chatbot? My business already has an app that nobody uses.” And the answer is that apps and chatbots serve very different purposes.
In today’s world, apps are used to accomplish a task of some sort or another. Businesses create apps to do tasks more efficiently, both for their own work and for customers to use. Those tasks could range from checking Facebook on a phone to entering large amounts of data. Apps make tasks more accessible than they might be on a webpage.
Chatbots instead fill a role of a human being providing a service. Sure, you could contact Netflix and ask for recommendations on what to watch, or your could use a chatbot to do it. You could spend time searching the web looking for the right gift, or your could ask a chatbot for help finding it.
Chatbots aren’t right for every business. In fact, there are a lot of businesses it doesn’t work for. Just like the app craze when smartphones came out, not every business needs a chatbot. Right now, the biggest industries to benefit from chatbots are eCommerce and independent software developers who want to sell them to fill a niche.
Another point to take in consideration is that AI technology is still in its infancy. Of the chatbots on Facebook’s messenger app, 70 percent of all requests were not fulfilled. Now, even the best AIs will still get confused from time to time, but that high percentage shows the tech still has a way to go before it’s feasible.
As of right now, it’s not recommended you build a chatbot, but keep your mind open to the future. It’s clear that Facebook wants it to become a new way companies interact with consumers. Chatbots have a lot of potential, but are not ideal in their current state.