Chatbots are small—living down in the corner of your website—but they are mighty. They have direct contact with your customers, after all. You might assume chatbots are only for large companies with tens of thousands, even millions, of customers. But know this: Chatbots can be great (and affordable) assets for small businesses.
A chatbot is a software program that can “talk” to customers. A visitor to your site types a question into the chat program, and a bot responds based on information stored in your company’s database. Chatbots today have evolved, using artificial intelligence (AI) to create a cheerful, human-like conversation—so much so that a visitor may not realize at first they’re talking to a computer program.
Chatbots work best when they’re programmed to answer simple or routine questions customers or clients repeatedly ask. But they can also be programmed to send a person to a live customer service representative or to open a help ticket if the question or request is too complex for the bot to handle.
Another advantage is speed. Customers get answers quickly. Your overall brand experience is greatly improved when a customer finds out what they need to know without waiting for a reply email or sitting on the phone holding and holding and holding.
Using chatbots also means you’re available to customers 24/7. And if the chatbot isn’t able to answer all their questions at 2 a.m., it can funnel their requests to the appropriate employee who can address it first thing the next business day.
Unexpected benefits of using chatbots
They’re easy for customers to use. Your customers may have also come to expect chatbots. People want fast, personalized service, and chatbots enable you to deliver on those expectations at scale. There’s a massive business opportunity to chatbot technology as well. According to Insider Intelligence, roughly 40% of global internet users prefer to interact with a chatbot than a live representative. The company also predicts that by 2024 consumers will spend $142 billion on retail involving chatbots.
They collect data on your customers. Chatbots are working behind the scenes, too. As customers type in questions and requests, chatbot platforms store that information for you. What are your customers most often looking for on your site? What products are most frequently mentioned in chats? What are customer pain points? You can then use that information to refine your tactics for generating leads, hone your sales process techniques and improve the customer experience overall.
They reinforce your expertise. Leverage your impressive customer service into greater sales. Program your chatbot to make smart product recommendations to customers, just as you would. That’s 24/7 customer service.
How to get started
Before you integrate a chatbot into your own website, you can try out the tactic first by using Facebook Messenger’s popular chatbot capability. It’s one of the easiest ways to get started using chatbots for your business. You simply set up a Facebook business page and use Facebook Messenger. Facebook researchers found that 69% of customers surveyed in the U.S. have more confidence and trust in brands they can message directly.
Facebook Messenger allows you to set custom greetings that pop up whenever someone visits your page. This immediately establishes a connection and encourages them to engage. You can also save answers to commonly asked questions and use Facebook Messenger bots to send automatic messages during hours when no live customer service representatives are available.
You can use Facebook’s chatbot interface or create your own. There are many different easy-to-use platforms available for very little cost. Many, in fact, have free plans, and you can add more features as you need.
Some of the most popular solutions that integrate with Facebook Messenger include Chatfuel, ManyChat and SendPulse. Each one of these has free options and is ideal for users without coding experience. That said, it’s recommended that you work with an IT consultant who can help you set up your chatbot arrangement painlessly. Find a good skilled freelancer on Upwork or Fiverr.
Although Facebook Messenger chatbots are among the easiest ways to dive into chatbot technology, it’s certainly not the only option. Twitter and WhatsApp also have chatbot options for businesses, and you can integrate a chatbot software platform that -you can integrate into your website. Many chatbot programs offer free tiers that may suit new or very small businesses, but there are also paid tiers to accommodate more in-depth needs as you grow.
You can work with a developer to create a custom bot for your business, though that can be quite costly. The better option for small companies is likely to use existing software with a simple interface that integrates with their websites. Popular platforms include MobileMonkey and Freshchat. You’ll find, too, that most of these chatbot platforms can be used on your preferred social and messaging platforms like Instagram and SMS.
Concerned about chatbot security? You can talk directly with the software companies about their security protocols and protections. They should be able to answer all of your questions and walk you through the ways they keep your business’ information safe.
Technology for a better human connection
If you’re worried that using a chatbot will destroy the personal connection you want to have with your small business customers, think about it this way: Chatbots can actually enhance those relationships rather than replace them. People are in a hurry, and when they need quick answers to make a purchase fast, they will likely appreciate a chatbot that gives them instant answers.
But don’t worry, you’ll remain in the picture! When customers are stuck and don’t know which product to purchase, or they’re nervous about a big-ticket item, you and your team will still be there to talk them through their concerns. That’s when you want your customer service and sales reps to be on hand directly and offer the knowledge and experience your customers can always count on.
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