Artificial intelligence is the next big revolution awaiting the world of internet technology. It has already begun to make its presence felt in e-commerce in the form of chatbots. For the uninitiated, a chatbot is an artificial intelligence computer program that stimulates human conversations via text or voice messages. Remember seeing that chat window pop up on websites? That is the simplest example of a chatbot. Chatbot designs
are based on machine learning and are equipped not to follow commands but understand language and respond accordingly. This enables them to hold conversations and answer queries. With titans like Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella emphasizing on the wonders of this AI, and tech giants like Google, Facebook and Windows already rolling out their bot technology, it can safely be assumed that chatbots are set to become increasingly common. TYPES OF CHATBOTS There are various kinds of chatbot designs available in the market to suit your business type and requirement. Chatbots are either based on AI or Command tech. The former is more intelligent and can answer indirect and unclear questions also while the latter works on pre-coded messages and hence is limited in its abilities to handle queries. Based on their capabilities and level of tech complexity, chatbots can be categorized as:
- Button/menu based chatbots: They are the most basic variety of chatbots that are able to help customers with basic FAQ type of questions.
- Keyword recognition chatbots: As the name suggests, these chatbots can identify predetermined keywords and respond accordingly. This helps in providing customized responses to the customer.
- Contextual chatbots: These are the most advanced form of chatbots. They can remember and store previous conversations and utilize this information to grow over time.
CHATBOT USE CASES You can build a chatbot
for a variety of purposes:
- Order processing. The food industry in particular has leveraged the use of a chatbot to make the online ordering experience easier for the customer. Biggies like Dominos, Burger King, Taco Bell etc, have already automated ordering. Slack is a great example of such a bot. Such chatbots can take your order, make suggestions based on previous orders and even make reservations. Customers find bots easier to use since they can quickly steer through the ordering process without having to spend time on explaining instructions over the phone.
- Pleasant customer experience. E-commerce platforms are using bots to engage the customer as well as assist them in navigating the site to look for the desired product. The bots are capable of giving recommendations to the customer and also help them in finding the right product as per their criteria. This results in saving the customer’s time and makes for a great shopping experience. Brands like H&M, Sephora etc., are already using bots to personalize shopping for their customers.
- Customer support. As the number of customers increases, it becomes difficult to handle queries and complaints. A chatbot eases the burden of the customer support team and resolves customer problems faster. Bots can easily handle simpler issues like product delivery, returns, exchange etc. This eliminates the need for a customer to spend time waiting over a call. As a business it helps you cut costs by reducing the employees required in the call centre team.
- Payments. Since 2016, Facebook Messenger has been upgraded to not just accepting orders but also making payments. Integrating a payment portal with Siri, Messenger or others, allows the customer to make direct payments and help streamline the purchase process. Bots can also be used to set up recurring payments or remind customers of a pending payment or due date of a bill.
- Health Care. The ability to store customer information makes the bot tremendously useful in the health sector. Having access to patient history is an advantage for both the physician and the patient. The bots can also answer simple user queries related to health and give quick solutions. Some bots also allow the doctors to interact directly with patients thus reducing the need for physical visits.
- Weather information. There are multiple weather bots available that can give you weather information in a jiffy. You can use them for current and daily weather forecasts and some even allow setting up reminders.
- Banking. This is another area where bots find a significant application. Financial help bots can notify you about the stock market conditions and keep track of shares you may have invested in. MyKai is a good example of such a bot.
They can also make investment suggestions based on market trends and advise you on monetary and tax matters. If you want to see an analysis of your spending pattern and ways to trim costs, there are bots for that too!
- Human Resources. Companies are employing chatbots in the Human Resources Department to ease the burden on employees. Chatbots can help in pre-screening of candidates, making the recruitment processes transparent, answering common candidate queries, providing solutions to employees on day to day operations, managing leave schedules etc.
- Travel. Bots can assist you in scanning flight prices, booking tickets, checking flight updates etc. The Expedia bot for example, can help you select a hotel as per your criteria and book it in a hassle free manner. You can also get city recommendations, exciting deals, must-visit places etc. through bots.
BUILDING A CHATBOT Before building a chatbot, outline the exact goals and requirement of your business so as to reap maximum ROI. There are two ways a chatbot can be designed:
- Hiring a software development company: Software companies that specialize in bot development platforms can be very helpful in creating personalized chatbots for your website. Such bots are fully in compliance with the needs of your business and offer an excellent customer experience.
- Using bot development platforms: The internet is swamped with various platforms that can help you create your own chatbot. While this method is more cost effective, the service offers limited configuration and may not fulfill your criteria. Some examples of such platforms are, Beep Boop, Botsify, Chatfuel, Flow Xo, IBM Watson, Microsoft Bot Framework etc.
CHATBOT BENEFITS When Uber director, Chris Messina, labeled 2016 as the year of conversational commerce he was clearly pointing to the crucial role chatbots will play in the future of e-commerce. This increasingly proliferating service will help scale up your business in the following ways:
- 24×7 Accessibility: The world today seems to function on a different kind of clock. Working hours and preferences of consumers have changed drastically and everyone wishes to bend time to their will. With smartphones and internet availability becoming ubiquitous, people now expect an online store to be ‘available’ at all times. Hiring professionals hiring to perform this task can prove a strain on resources. Therefore, chatbots make a lot of sense in this scenario since they can help clients any time of the day and ensure customer engagement.
- Increased Customer satisfaction: Chatbots score over call center executives in the manner they handle queries. Bots do not exhibit human emotions and can thus deal with a crisis situation more effectively. They are also able to store previous preferences of the customer and make the entire ordering process more personalized and easy. Besides, a chatbot can assist the customer while shopping online and quickly answer any FAQs related to returns, shipping payment, delivery, checkout etc.
- Powerful Social Media Presence: The fact that a business needs to be online in today’s world is a no-brainer. But just having a website does not imply an online presence; being active on social media is crucial for customer engagement and retention. This is where chatbots step in. They are a simple yet effective way to engage with customers on various media platforms and build a strong relationship with your audience.
- Targetted Marketing: Amongst the various amazing uses of a chatbot is its ability to gather and analyse data. Through customer interaction, bots are able to get valuable insights into customer preferences, location, gender, age and other important data. By analyzing this information, companies can create more targeted marketing strategies and make informed tactical decisions. Hence your marketing efforts can be channeled into the right avenues and generate convertible leads for the business.
- Better Automated Task Performance: With human employees there is always a risk of boredom and slackness, especially when it comes to routine and mundane task. Such tasks can easily be transferred to bots that are coded to perform recurring work. Any technical issues that need rectifying or if you need to be informed about a particular trend can be performed by chatbots trained for the same. This will make your business more productive.
- Cost Effectiveness: Keeping costs in check is perhaps one of the most significant focuses of any business. Therefore an important criterion before adopting new practices is the cost factor. Fortunately, chatbots score high in this area too. The cost of a chatbot will be governed by the complexity of tasks to be performed. However, even the most expensively built bots will not burn a hole on your pocket. Besides, chatbots are a one-time investment that will continue to serve for a long time. Also considering that a single bot can perform the work of many employees, you will realise that in the long run it pays for itself.
FUTURE OF CHATBOTS As chatbots continue their meteoric rise even the dissenters are admitting to the advantages they bring. They are set to become the key interaction channel of the future workplace and businesses and are weighed more profitable compared to the traditional formats. Perhaps one of the challenges would be to identify the type of bot best suited to your business and to infuse your brand’s personality into it. However, given the rapidly changing and evolving technology, bots of the future are only set to become smarter, cleverer and more intuitive.