Make chatbot your best employee – chatbot best practices

Over the past years, “virtual assistants” also known as chatbots have become incredibly popular.

First chatbots were small programs that could only take simple and straightforward tasks, but today, with the help of Artificial Intelligence, they morphed into powerful systems that can assist companies in their daily tasks.

In 2016, the chatbot market was valued at $703 million (Marketsandmarkets), and by 2020, over 80% of businesses are expected to have some sort of chatbot automation implemented (Business Insider, 2016).

Why are they so popular?

That’s because online chatbots can save time, money and energy of your support team by answering several customers inquiries at once, quickly and precisely.

But the abilities of modern chatbots systems go far beyond just answering customers’ questions. They are also often used for collecting information about users, giving your customers product suggestions or help them to book the cheapest plane tickets.

However, many people still don’t understand what chatbots are. Why are they important? How does it work? Why is it so popular? Can my company use a chatbot?

If those are the questions you have too,  this article is for you.

What is a chatbot?

Chatbots are computer programs designed to interact with customers via exchanging messages.

Simple ones can be programmed to either reply, in the same way, every time or to prepare an answer based on specific keywords while the more advanced ones can learn from the conversation and match their responses with the situation.

You can communicate with them using text messages, website chat windows or social messaging apps windows but plenty of bots also have voice-recognition abilities and can reply to spoken commands.

They weren’t too popular in the earlier years, but today, chatbots can be a tremendous help both for companies and customers. A good chatbot helps to free your valuable time by taking care of simple tasks (and doing several of those at the same time) and save money you would need for additional staff too.

What exactly can chatbots do?

For example, they can help customers solve their issues by directing them to the FAQs or by giving them information about your product or service.

They can also help them to book appointments, schedule a meeting, check the availability of a product, suggest products the customer might be interested in or buy a ticket. And they can do it much faster than a customer support staff!

What kinds of chatbots are there?

When you start looking for a chatbot for your business, you will notice there are two major groups: one group of bots is working according to inserted commands (so-called simple chatbot) and those who use artificial intelligence (called smart or advanced chatbot).

Simple chatbots have a base of pre-written keywords and depending on which keyword the customer used, the chatbot gives an already prepared answer – plenty of those use button based communication.

How does it work? A chatbot user sees options in the form of buttons, and by pressing specific ones, the user can specify what do they need.

Depending on the buttons used, the bot then gives an answer.  However if a user asked a question without using keywords the bot can recognise or the user’s behaviour is different from what bot knows, he cannot understand the question and reply to it.

That’s when the only solution is to contact customer support –  chatbot cannot create anything new and get stuck when a user has a different question.

Smart chatbots, on the other hand, rely on artificial intelligence. Unlike the simple bots that rely heavily on keywords in a conversation, an intelligent chatbot can use natural language to understand and reply to a customer. So instead of using scripted answers for a limited set of questions, a smart bot can respond to more complicated issues and even give suggestions to the user.

Also, all words said by the customers are recorded for later use. Chatbots that are used for technical support and have access to the customers’ database are also able to use the history of previous customer issues to answer new ones.  

What can chatbots do?

Do you have problems with responding to all customers questions and issues? Is your staff annoyed they have to answer the same questions every day? Or maybe you want to find a way to offer customer support also on weekends? Why not leave it to chatbots? Here are a few things chatbots are good at:  

1. Automate repetitive tasks: How many times a day your customer support team have to answer questions on where is the company, in what hours they work or how much does a shipping cost? Too many probably. To save their time spent on writing the same answers every time,  make a chatbot.

2. Improve a response rate: Slow response or lack of it is one of the major problems for customers. Why not hire a chatbot to help with responding to customers questions? A chatbot can reply to several questions instantly (as long as they are straightforward ones) and ensure you are both keeping your customers happy (they get an answer in a flash) and freeing your staff valuable time (because they don’t have to answer the same questions every day).

3. Give product suggestions: If a smart bot has access to customers database, it can give a personalised product suggestion to a customer based on what the customer wants and what they previously purchased. And it won’t get annoyed with picky customers who ask for several different products.

4. Customer support all day round: Bots don’t need to rest and can offer 24/7 customer service. No matter when customers contact them (late evening, weekend or national holiday), the chatbot will immediately give an answer or address customer issue. No need to wait for a customer support staff to start work!

And that’s only a fraction of the things a chatbot can do!

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What are the main advantages of chatbots? 

When used correctly, chatbots have a considerable potential to change your company and your interactions with customers, for the better. Here are the main benefits of getting a chatbot:

  • Lower Costs. One of the most significant advantages of chatbots is that they lower the number of staff needed for customer support – so they are perfect if you can’t afford to hire new staff. And what is more – they can do a variety of tasks at the same time, from answering questions to taking care of purchase orders or bookings.
  • Smart chatbots can improve themselves every day. AI-based chatbots can learn from their interaction with clients to help them faster. What is more, using their database chatbots can easily target the right audience and personalise the messages, so the user gets exactly the answer they need, lightning fast.
  • Handle many customers at once. No matter how talented your customer support or sales reps are,  they have a limit to how many clients they can handle at once. Chatbots have no such restrictions – they can handle as many queries as required at once. While your customer support staff is busy with solving more complicated cases, chatbots make sure that all other customers are taken care off, and their problems are resolved quickly and effectively.
  • Delivering lightning fast response. Chatbots don’t need to spend time on searching, guessing or asking others for answers, they have all required information in their knowledge base. That’s why chatbots need only a few seconds to match the requested information with the information in their database and prepare a suitable reply.

Are there any disadvantages?

As useful as they are, chatbots do have a fair share of disadvantages too – most coming from the fact that no matter how advanced and sophisticated they might be, they still can’t replace a human being. Because of this, chatbots:

1. Chatbots are not flexible when it comes to answering difficult questions

Chatbots are fast and precise but only as long as they have answers to customers questions in their algorithm. When there’s an unexpected question or behaviour, they get confused – they can’t answer questions or deal with issues more complicated than those the system knows about. When such situation happens, the bot might either give a completely irrelevant answer to the customers’ question or keep asking for clarification – both cases end in an irritated and annoyed customer leaving the website or app without getting the needed information.

2. Not liked by many users

Plenty of users, especially from the older generation or those who aren’t “tech savvy” enough prefer to talk to a real person rather than a chatbot. It’s crucial to check how your customers will react to a chatbot before implementing one – what’s the point in spending time and money on designing a chatbot if only a small number of customers will use it? It’s also a bad idea to abandon phone/email support or shorten the time when customers can contact a real employee – not every problem can be solved with chatbots.

Plenty of users, especially from the older generation or those who aren’t “tech savvy” enough prefer to talk to a real person rather than a chatbot. It’s crucial to check how your customers will react to a chatbot before implementing one – what’s the point in spending time and money on designing a chatbot if only a small number of customers will use it? It’s also a bad idea to abandon phone/email support or shorten the time when customers can contact a real employee – not every problem can be solved with chatbots.

3. Can’t be left unattended

As with every other computer program, chatbots might have an unexpected error and start behaving s, so you need to monitor the system actions. If a bot asks the customer the same questions or gives them an unrelated answer, you risk angering the customer.  If the bot has access to your internal database, you have to be extra careful to make sure your customers’ personal information won’t leak anywhere.

4. Limited in what they can do:

Even with the rapid technological advance, chatbots capabilities are still pretty limited. They can’t read between the lines, can’t understand emotions and their understanding of sarcasm and irony is as high as Carrot’s Ironfoundersson (meaning, they don’t get it at all). Even with their learning abilities, they won’t get the answer right every time, so it’s important to know when a human employee needs to get involved.

5. Not for every kind of business

Not every industry can benefit from implementing a chatbot. In some cases, a chatbot might turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help. They are a valuable asset for companies where customer support is predictable and can be easily scripted. For example: food or product purchases and deliveries, hotel rooms or plane tickets booking, IT help, etc. But if a business relies on individual approach to each customer, chatbots won’t be of much help there.

I’m convinced, how can I get one?

Before you try to build your chatbot,  ask yourself these questions first:

  • For what do I need a chatbot?
  • What kind of Chatbot do I want?
  • Which tasks do I want chatbot to do?
  • Where will I use it (on my website or social media account?) 
  • How will users interact with my bot?

After answering the questions and finding that your company could benefit from getting a chatbot, it’s time to get into details. You have to decide on a custom build tool or just on buying a ready system, design and features.

Most of the popular chatbots design is simple and easy for users to interact with. There’s no need to add several bells and whistles to it.

Design conversation flows to get your users to get what they need in as few steps as possible.

Also, the closer your bot is to sound natural (not like a stereotypical robot) the better. So it’s a great idea to add some personal touches to it. Before releasing your chatbot to the world, it’s also crucial to first test him out. You don’t want to deal with angry customers later on just because the chatbot messed up their orders or gave them unhelpful answers.

Another thing you need is to think up of a good name for your chatbot. A great way to name your chatbot is to relate the name to what the bot does, with a twist.

How much does it cost?

Let’s be honest here. Getting a chatbot is not a cheap thing, though they got definitely more affordable in the last years.

If you build a fully customized system, you have to be aware you will pay much more than if you just buy a ready-to-use app.

But when used correctly, they are worth every penny. Not only chatbots can free up your employees valuable time (spent earlier on answering “How much is the shipping cost?” question every day) to be spent on more complicated cases. They can also make your customers much happier (because they can get answers to their questions whenever they need and in a few minutes).

Just remember that you shouldn’t fully rely on them. System errors or unexpected issues can happen at any moment. You need a knowledgeable person keeping an eye on the bots (especially if the bot has access to personal data!).  

Are you using a chatbot in your company? Or maybe you have tried User.com chatbot? Leave us a comment!
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