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The process of implementing a chatbot requires the selection of the right natural language processing (NLP) engine as one of the most important aspects. The chatbot would need a speech recognition engine if a user is interacting with the bot through voice. Additionally, business owners have to decide what they prefer between structured and unstructured conversations. For instance, chatbots for structured conversations are often highly scripted, a characteristic that simplifies programming, but at the same time restricts what users can ask.
In a B2B environment, chatbots are usually scripted and respond to questions frequently asked or used to perform simple and repetitive calls to action. And in sales, the chatbots is a quick method of getting phone numbers for sales representatives.
In service departments, chatbots can assist service agents to answer repetitive requests. A good example is where a service rep provides the chatbot with an order number asking when a particular order was shipped. A chatbox is structured such that once a conversation becomes complex, the text or call window can be transferred to a human service agent for further action.
Chatbots like PARRY and ELIZA were some of the initial attempts that created programs that would temporarily fool real human beings into believing they were actually conversing with another person. During the early 1970s, the effectiveness of PARRY was benchmarked using a Turing test version; a correct identification of humans versus chatbot was done using testers to a level that was consistent with making a random guess.
Since then, it has been a long journey for chatbot technologies. Chatbots are built through artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as deep learning, machine learning (ML) algorithms, and natural language processing. Essentially, they require a massive amount of data to work seamlessly. Voice recognition becomes better in predicting the appropriate responses as the end-user interacts more with the bot.
Types of chatbots
Chatbots is a new technology and debate continues particularly on the amount and classification of the available types. Below are some of the common types of chatbots.
Scripted or Quick reply chatbots-The most basic chatbots which act as a hierarchical decision tree. They interact with users via predefined questions that go on until all the user’s questions have been answered by the chatbot. Closely related to the scripted or quick reply chatbot is the menu-based chatbot where the user is required to make selections from a menu or a predefined list. From the selections, a bot is offered a deeper understanding of what customers could be looking for.
Keyword recognition-based chatbots-They are more complex chatbots that listen to what a user has typed and will respond using those keywords picked up from a customer’s response. This bot provides appropriate responses to the users through customizable keywords and AI. However, these chatbots are known to struggle in responding when they encounter repetitive keywords or redundant questions.
Hybrid chatbots-They function by combining elements of keyword recognition-based and menu-based bots. Hybrid chatbots provide users with an option of choosing their questions to be directly answered or accessing the chatbot menu and making selections when the keyword recognition process offers insufficient results.
Contextual Chatbots– They are complex compared to the above chatbots and need a data-centric focus. Contextual chatbots use AI and ML in order to remember interactions and conversations with users, they use the memories to improve and grow over time. They do not reply to keywords but use what clients have asked for and how they have asked to provide answers and further self-improve.
Voice-enabled chatbots-This is considered the future of bot technology. They use spoken dialogue from the user as input that prompts responses and creative tasks. Voice-enabled chatbots are created through text-to-speech (TTS) and voice recognition application program interface (API). Examples: Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa.
Examples of chatbot use
The use of chatbox has risen considerably in both consumer and business markets. As the technology continues to improve, consumers have fewer complaints while interacting with it. Further, advanced technology means society is transiting to more passive and text-based communication, a niche that chatbots are fast filling.
Chatbots are not new because they have been used for many years for instant messaging and online interactive games. However, their popularity with B2B and B2C sales and services is worth noting. They are now being added to buddy lists or being used in providing single game players with an interactive entity as they await the other “live” players. In cases where a bot is more sophisticated and has passed the Turing test, a person may not know they are playing or interacting with a computer program.
Chatbots have become popular in sales where they assist consumers to shop online by providing answers to noncomplex questions about products or even helpful information such as availability and shipping price. Also, chatbots are useful in service departments where they assist service agents to answer repetitive requests. They are programmed to transfer conversations to a human service agent once it becomes too complex.
Chatbots function as virtual assistants. Most of the world’s top technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google have a form of a virtual assistant. Other apps like Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and products such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home function as a personal chatbot.
Why chatbots are important
The efficiency derived and time saved through AI chatbots conversing and responding to repetitive questions has become attractive to companies seeking to increase sales and service productivity.
The chart below shows the differences between a chatbot, conversational agent, and personal or virtual assistant.
Consumers are moving away from the traditional communication methods as chat-based forms of communication keep rising in popularity. Chat-based virtual assistants are being embraced to address simple tasks, effectively freeing human agents who now have to focus on higher-profile sales or service cases.
How chatbots are changing customer experience
The digital world is rapidly evolving, effectively increasing and altering customer expectations. Most consumers expect that companies provide services 24/7 and feel that the customer experience a company provides is as important as its quality of products and services. Additionally, buyers are today better informed about the available products and services and may not remain loyal to one brand. Hence, chatbots have come up as a response to these rising expectations and changing needs. They are slowly replacing live chat and other forms of contact used previously such as phone calls and emails.
Chatbots can enhance customer experience through:
- a reduction in waiting time while providing instant answers;
- 24/7 customer support;
- removing human-to-human unpleasant interactions dictated by emotions and mood of sales and service representatives and customers;
- minimizing annoyance and stress some customers feel in trying to contact customer support by streamlining conversation and lowering the time customers have to wait;
- Improved redirection of customer queries;
- Advances brand personality through the addition of customized elements to a chatbot;
- Personalized customer experience with the use of an AI-enabled chatbot.
Leading technology companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, have modified their messaging apps into chatbots to handle services such as bookings, orders, and payments. Likewise, when combined with messaging apps, chatbots enable users to find answers regardless of the device they use and place. Chatbots make interaction easier since no forms are being filled out or waste of time in search of answers.
Benefits of using chatbots
Other than the benefits mentioned above on the impact of chatbots on customer experience, businesses can pull certain advantages. For instance, more satisfied customers and enhanced customer experience increase the likelihood of companies to continue drawing profit from their loyal customers. Furthermore, chatbots can do thousands of conversations with buyers simultaneously which improves business productivity and eliminates the requirement to wait for free representatives. There are other benefits including:
Cost effectiveness-Chatbots are cost-effective because they are cheaper and faster compared to some of the dedicated, cross-platform apps or even hiring of additional employees. Apart from reducing the cost of employees, chatbots can reduce costly issues caused by human error. Also, the costs of user acquisition are lower considering chatbots are immediately available and can respond in seconds.
Saves time-Chatbots automate tasks that should be done frequently and at specified times. With the time saved, employees get more time to concentrate on other important assignments. Again, chatbots ensure customers get answers faster and do not need to wait to get responses.
Proactive customer interaction-Companies had to rely on passive customer interactions in the past or wait for buyers to reach out. As such, chatbots have ensured organizations are proactive during their interaction through initiating conversations and monitoring the way customers utilize their websites and landing pages. Any information gathered when customer activities are observed provides incentives specific to the buyer, and helps users in navigating the site and answering questions that emerge.
Monitor and analyze customer data-Feedback collected by chatbots from every interaction can significantly help businesses improve on their products or services and optimize their website. Such information also tracks consumer behaviors and their purchasing patterns upon recording data from users. Furthermore, customer information gives companies more insights on better marketing for their products and services and some of the common obstacles customers might face in the process of buying.
Improves customer engagement-Many companies today engage customers via social media and with chatbots, this engagement can become more interactive. Additionally, not many buyers talk to people in businesses, hence chatbots open communication channels in which customers engage with no stress of interacting with other people.
Eases scalability to global markets-Most customer queries and concerns can be resolved through chatbots in multiple languages. Their access 24/7 allows them to be used with no worries about the time zone for the customers.
Expands the customer base-Chatbots can significantly enhance lead generation, qualification, and nurturing. Through chatbots, a buyer can ask questions and provide information that creates a lead. As such, chatbots provide credible customer information that sales reps can utilize as leads. Bots improve the rate of conversion and ensure the lead journey flows towards a purchase. Finally, through chatbots, a sales team can determine whether a lead qualifies using the identified key performance indicators (KPIs), like timeline, budget, and resources. It ensures organizations do not waste time on unqualified leads and customers who are time-consuming.
Challenges of Using Chatbots
Chatbots have improved customer experience and benefited organizations but they have also come with various challenges. The biggest challenge is the fact that it’s a new technology and faces certain obstacles that companies are not aware of and do not know how to address them. Fortunately, AI-enabled bots learn from each other’s interactions and consequently improve on their behaviors. However, the process can be expensive for businesses particularly if initial interactions make customers disengage and turn away.
The other struggle faced is chatbot security. Users should trust a chatbox so much so that they can share personal data. As such, companies should ensure their chatbots are designed to request relevant information only and securely transmit the data over the internet. Further, chatbots should be designed in a secure way to prevent hackers from accessing the chat interface.
Other challenges include:
- Different ways people type their messages make it hard for their messages to be understood. For this reason, chatbots have to deal with both short and long sentences and those chat bubbles which have lengthy content versus multiple and short submissions.
- Humans talk in different ways which could make it difficult for the chatbot to understand. For instance, they might use slang, misspell words, and use short forms or acronyms.
- Human beings are considered random and user behavior is often controlled by moods and emotions. Users change their minds quickly. For example, after asking for a suggestion initially, they switch to giving a command. Hence, chatbot technology should have the capacity to adapt and understand the element of spontaneity and randomness.
Finally, users would always want to get the best experience but are not easy to satisfy them. They always wish the chatbot was better than it is currently. Therefore, companies using chatbots have to update and improve them consistently to ensure the satisfaction of users and a feeling of dealing with a smart and reliable source.
Future of Chatbots
The popularity of chatbots is expected to continue with a survey from Oracle, a computer software firm showing that about 80% of brands will incorporate chatbots into their businesses by 2022.
AI and ML will evolve more, offer new capabilities to chatbots and introduce new level texts and voice-enabled user experiences that will further transform customer experiences.
The improvements will impact data collection and provide more customer insights that ensure buyer behaviors are predictive.
Voice solutions will be a common and necessary part of the IT ecosystem. Hence, increased focus is on the development of a voice-based chatbot that would act as a conversational agent, understand numerous languages, and respond using the same language.
Chatbots Business; How and where do you begin?