If you’ve interacted online with pretty much any sort of business in the past year, there’s a good chance it was handled by a chatbot. Lately, I’ve encountered more local small businesses using them to take orders and answer questions. There was chatter on my neighborhood FB group about an old-school Italian eatery run by a local family. I clicked over to their Facebook profile to check out the menu and soon enough, their chatbot popped up to offer me $10 off my first order. A deal too good to pass up. I placed my pick-up order right there – and later, added to their glowing reviews online: “The best lasagna. Leave room for tiramisu!” The convenience offered by their chatbot helped to win my business. And they seem more prevalent than ever. Have you noticed the proliferation of chatbots on websites and social media platforms? The chatbot is one modern technology that’s more than a trend; it’s becoming an important part of customer service and leveraged by businesses that want to stay ahead of the competition in their sector.
According to the latest findings in our Customer Experience (CX) Benchmark, nearly 50% of businesses are offering chatbots. And there’s no shortage of reasons for the popularity. Chatbots can make information available to customers at all times of the day—and in any time zone or language. They don’t make the same mistakes that humans might make after a long day of answering chats. In the case of chatbots that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, they can learn from customer interactions and become smarter over time.
The truth is, when it comes to routine transactions, lots of people in the world today are as happy talking to a bot as they are to a human being. Some individuals are more partial to bots since the conversation feels less forced. A chatbot doesn’t question you if you need to take a step back to find information, and you know there isn’t a human behind the scenes waiting for you.
If you own a business (large or small) and haven’t yet considered the benefits of using a chatbot, don’t get left behind! You’ll be in the minority more quickly than you might think. Before we delve into how chatbots are revolutionizing customer service and support, let’s first define exactly what they are and what they do.
In its very basic form, chatbots are text-based apps that customers can use online or on their mobile phone to communicate with businesses. A basic chatbot is typically rule-based. It simulates the way humans communicate. Chatbots can be programmed with a selection of pre-written responses that are sent out based on what a customer asks in the chat. They can be tied to a database, like a knowledgebase, to serve up answers to frequently asked questions.
Businesses are deploying chatbots on the web and across social channels to simplify or automate tasks via self-service for customers (and even on the agent side and in backend routines). The application of chatbots varies and is based on the individual brand. Chatbots support customer service in a variety of ways:
- Answer frequently asked customer questions
- Provide information, documents, and other contextual support
- Use data to personalize interactions
- Complete secure and accurate transactions
- Route interactions to other channels
- Promote or educate on products or services
- Proactive customer outreach
- Assist agents with next-best-action and knowledgebase recommendations
Not all chatbots are created equal. Some are “fixed” bots that offer a limited list of capabilities and require manual updates to change their language and assistance aptitudes. These chatbots are based on pre-defined rules. Consumers need to speak (or type) specific commands or phrases, in order for the bot to understand and assist them. The newest generation of chatbots are AI-powered and much more dynamic. They are considered “smarter” because they understand human language, context, and handle more complex requests by conversing with customers over voice and text. Under the hood, AI-powered bots use machine learning to continuously learn based on the customer interactions it handles.
In the latest survey of global customer experience leaders, 84% of consumers are more willing to do business with companies that offer self-service, but only 61% say companies offer easy, convenient self-service. More than 70 percent of businesses agree chatbots make it easier for customers to get their issues resolved, with 40 percent indicating they will invest in customer-facing AI for self-service in the future.
Chatbots stand-in for live service
A robust chatbot can parse certain phrases and keywords from a chat and use them to determine the problem that a customer is having. At that point, the chatbot offers a series of solutions based on the information that was provided.
Customer service chatbots are especially useful for frequently asked questions (FAQs) that customers may otherwise have to speak to an agent to get a simple answer. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the chatbots you find on websites, social media, and digital apps. The most sophisticated chatbots have an incredible amount of complexity and can be nearly indistinguishable from speaking with a human. Have you ever asked Apple’s Suri about the weather forecast or Amazon’s Alexa to add an item to your grocery list? In 2020, significantly more businesses agree that chatbot technology makes it easier for customers (71% in 2020, up from 63% in 2019).
Chatbots offer a host of benefits for business owners who want a simple and modern answer to handling customer service queries and comments. However, while chatbots enable businesses to handle customer service inquiries across digital channels without involving live agents, it seems there’s still room for improvement before they are smart enough to displace the need for agents in the contact center. (Read more in this post)
Chatbots enable around-the-clock service
Some businesses that use humans exclusively for customer service claim to offer 24/7 support, but that usually isn’t the case. Try reaching out after business hours, and you may experience serious wait times.
Predictions from just a few years ago on how this technology benefits customers buying services or products are panning out. While there are individuals who prefer speaking to a human over a bot, 64% of surveyed customers said that 24-hour support is one of the biggest benefits of a chatbot. Customers want to get information when they need it. Waiting can lead to them visiting competitors who can offer them what they want – without having to wait.
But that’s not the only reason to consider using chatbots. The latest CX research shows that there are dozens of reasons to incorporate this customer support option on your website, social media pages, and other digital channels where you do business. Below are a few ways that today’s AI-powered conversational chatbots offer a better service experience than those we’re most familiar with from the past.
- Immediate answers are available. Many people are now searching for information while they go about their daily lives. Even when most of the world is sound asleep, there are those of us who are still awake browsing the Internet. By using chatbots, a business can offer support to those individuals, no matter what time it is.
This is a huge advancement from requiring customers to chat during certain hours when staff is available. Any customer in any location can speak with a bot and get answers to questions or resources that help them find a solution to a problem they are having. It’s convenient for the customer, and once they’ve used a bot, they’ll be more likely to do so in the future.
- Preemptive action is a possibility. Chatbots make it possible to be proactive and understand what customers need more quickly. With people looking for great customer service that provides answers immediately, chatbots provide a solution that works for both business and consumer. Connect with a customer quickly and give them the information they’re looking for at light speed. This makes them more likely to come back to your business again in the future.
High-quality chatbots can predict what a customer might need using online interactions that have occurred in the past or what the customer is saying (leveraging advanced capabilities like natural language processing and speech analytics). This makes chatbots useful for offering real-time support to customers through FAQs or virtual services for issues that may not require escalation (such as rescheduling a delivery). They work well as a first-line customer service option, allowing you to save human agents for the most complicated queries.
- Bots are professional all the time. Most customer service agents do their best to maintain courtesy and professionalism when speaking with customers. However, after hours of helping customers, anyone can become tired. This may decrease the level of cheerfulness and politeness that a live agent can offer. Bots, on the other hand, have no concept of being tired, frustrated, or overworked. They act in the way in which they are programmed, which means your chatbots will be just as professional after 500 chats as they were going into the first one. No matter what time of day it is, a bot is going to act the same way. This ensures that the right attitude is constantly being provided to customers with questions.
- Better speed for seamless interactions. One thing that businesses focus on when it comes to customer service is speed. The more quickly a solution is found, the less money is spent on that interaction. As soon as an issue is resolved, the next one can be dealt with, and so on.
With a chatbot, speed increases exponentially compared to a situation where even the most skilled humans are answering chats. Research shows that nearly 70% of people prefer working with chatbots simply based on how quickly they get a resolution to their problems. On its own, this advantage is a huge boon for both your customers and your company.
- Service tailored to customers’ needs. While customer service used to be a simple process of making a phone call, times have changed. Customers are unique. While one might want to call in and speak to a human agent, that isn’t the case with every person. Some customers prefer to speak with a chatbot. Others might want to search for answers through FAQs on a website, while still others prefer to email.
With data integration, you can give your chatbots access to customers’ history, so that the bot can recommend products based on past interactions or even website browsing activity. You can use chatbots to proactively suggest relevant content and solutions related to what the customer has accessed in the past.
While there’s a range of chatbots available these days, the most advanced next-gen bots are the ones that rely on conversational AI capabilities to understand, respond, and interact with customers—these are often called virtual agents. Contact centers are deploying advanced chatbots like these to provide a full customer service experience from start to finish.
How a particular bot technology works all comes down to the type of development: where chatbots are simpler and can use automation, virtual agents are more complex with machine learning and AI. Modern contact center software supports these capabilities (and more) to bring your company to the cutting edge when it comes to supporting customers and encouraging them to visit you again in the future.
5 business benefits of chatbot implementation
We’ve talked about how chatbots are great for customers and why they have quickly become a common sight on websites and social media. Some benefits to customers can also be benefits to your business, as well. For example, by automating routine tasks – like status verification or appointment scheduling -- with chatbots can cut down on resolution time and enable your business to save the costs associated with live-assisted service.
Let’s take a quick look at how chatbots can improve your business and make you a more formidable competitor within your industry.
Benefit 1: Constant online presence
One of the top things you can do to keep customers coming back is to be available whenever they need support. Messaging platforms are increasingly becoming a part of businesses' customer support strategy; a huge number of customers are using them. It’s also worth knowing that many customers prefer to interact with a company through chat since it’s quicker than a phone call and can be accessed on their timeline. Implementing chatbots gives you an online presence at all times of the day on any platform or app that is popular with your customers.
Another consideration is that about 65% of smartphone owners don’t download new apps regularly. Core apps like Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp are tried and true communication options that extend to customer/business conversations. Integrating chatbots into a popular platform that your customers already use makes it that much easier for them to contact you if they have a question.
Benefit 2: Better customer engagement
Companies need to be proactive to keep customers engaged. Based on research, businesses that engage with customers on social media increase potential customer spending by around 20 to 40%. Social media is part of the process but using a chatbot increases engagement with customers in the places where they are already spending time.
The typical customer service interface might provide a great deal more information to a customer than it gets back. That isn’t the case with a chatbot where the conversation is give-and-take. Chatbots can lead the conversation by making a note of what a customer is saying each time they reach out and respond to a customer’s message. That means chatbots are more engaging and less dull. It also means you collect data from the interactions that you can use in the future.
Benefit 3: More data = more insights
We’ve talked about how chatbots are an excellent tool for communicating with customers. They can ask simple questions to collect feedback, which can be used across the organization to improve products and services. Chatbots can also help to guide prospects to visit target pages and links that you want to promote. For example, if you have a low-converting page, the chatbot could ask customers to visit it and then provide survey questions about why they aren’t moving forward in the buying process.
On top of that, chatbots can be used to track consumer behavior and purchasing patterns by monitoring data in real-time. Essentially, a business can track the responses and queries that a user sends to a chatbot. Predicting what responses will come next lets you use the bot to suggest products and services that may better meet customer needs. It can also be used to share insights with your marketing and sales departments about customer trends.
Benefit 4: Increased lead generation
Chatbots are capable of personalized messaging, which means they can guide customers along the buying journey. The chatbot takes the information that a customer provides and uses that to determine where to send them or what information to provide them with. Bots can be designed to ask related questions, persuade users, and create leads that will be useful in the future. When designed for the customer journey, chatbots can offer the right flow of conversation to use to get the best conversion rates.
Beyond determining who potential customers are and sending that information on to the marketing and sales teams, chatbots can do one better. When you use a chatbot on your website and social media pages, it can also determine unqualified leads based on the KPIs that matter to you. Whether you want to focus on searching for those with the right budget, timeline, relevancy, or resources, the bot can determine who fits the bill to prevent courting leads that aren’t likely to buy from you.
Benefit 5: Potential cost savings
From development to deployment, chatbots are affordable than ever. Compared to having a small staff of people exclusively handling customer service inquiries, automating routine tasks and common questions with a bot can offer quick and great returns that reduce operational costs, improve customer experience, and uplifts agents. Think about it: Hiring staff can be costly and time-consuming, especially when you consider the hidden costs like training, vacations, benefits, and other details.
A chatbot can work 24/7 without breaks. They’re automated and can talk to multiple customers at the same time. Human agents may also be able to talk to several customers at once, but there is a limit to what one person can handle. Since customers seek chatbots and speak to them when they’re ready, a chatbot system may help in boosting customer retention. In “State of the Contact Center 2020”, Aberdeen finds AI users are already seeing 7.2% higher YoY customer satisfaction and 7.3% customer retention. For repetitive questions and comments, chatbots are a cost-effective option that is easy to use, maintain, and implement.
Exceptional support, just a click away
In terms of customer service, bots are useful in a variety of ways to enhance the customer service experience, including:
- Proactive interactions. Most businesses have a passive interaction system where customers are spoken to only when they start a conversation. However, the market has changed, and this is no longer enough to stay competitive. A chatbot can initiate conversations with customers at any time of day regarding any topic to help increase brand perception and bring in repeat customers.
- Extensive assistance. Many people need help while shopping and chatbots ensure that help is constantly available. Chatbots can provide the same help as a salesperson in a physical store would. They can also provide interactive conversation by asking questions to delve into the actual problem. Through the use of voice and chat, customers can be provided with blog entries, images, tutorials, and other items to help them through a sales journey.
- Always-on support. Whether you’re a small business or a major enterprise, it’s important to offer the best possible customer service. Chatbots are one way to ensure you do that. They can be programmed to answer repetitive questions quickly and forward more challenging queries to the proper person when action needs to be taken. This saves time and allows you to allocate your human support to more complicated transactions.
Revolutionize customer support with chatbots
Regardless of what services or products you offer, a chatbot could be the missing part of the puzzle for boosting the engagement of your brand.
- Quickly and easily resolve the most common customer issues
- Give your customer service employees more time to deal with complex tasks
- Create automatic actions and alerts to streamline your customer service
The next step is learning more about how chatbots and AI can help your business! Our latest eBook can help to cut through all the chatbot chatter. Download your copy to learn the secrets of doing it right. Click here to download.