Chatbots for Customer Service: How Small Businesses are Using Them

Chatbots are computer programs that are able to converse with people online using human-like speech. They’re common within messaging apps and live chat features to help businesses answer customer queries, increase sales and save time. And they’re getting more popular by the day. In fact, 80 percent of businesses plan on using chatbots by 2020, according to a study from Oracle.

Not sure how a chatbot could benefit your organization? Here are some of the most popular ways this type of technology is being deployed currently.

Answering Frequently Asked Questions

At some point throughout the buying process, customers are likely to have questions. Small businesses don’t always have the resources to respond 24/7. And doing so manually isn’t very efficient. But chatbots can help you respond quickly and save time on answering the same queries over and over again.

Say you have a software company and potential buyers often want to learn more about how to actually deploy the program before purchasing. You can offer a chat option on your website and have a chatbot recognize when someone is asking about deployment. It can then provide step-by-step instructions in a way people understand. If customers then have further questions that aren’t as common, it can direct those customers to an actual customer service agent who will provide more personalized answers. But if 90 percent of the questions you receive are about the same few things, having an automated system for responding can save you a ton of time on customer service.

Creating a Unique Social Experience

Chatbots don’t have to only live on your website. In fact, brands like Quartz are reaching out to customers using chatbots in Facebook Messenger to increase engagement. The economic news site shares snippets from stories or unique facts with customers in a message. Then it engages in a back-and-forth conversation with those who respond, diving even deeper into the topic.

This idea doesn’t just apply to media companies. Retailers could use the app to ask customers questions about current fashion trends and then make product recommendations based on that information. Or food producers could use it to offer tailored recipes to customers who are looking to use a specific ingredient in their upcoming dinner.

Making Product Recommendations

Whether in a messaging app or your own site or app, chatbots can be especially valuable in helping customers find the products that are best suited to their preferences.

For example, beauty retailer Sephora’s mobile app offers a “virtual try-on” feature that lets you see different products over a photo of yourself. Similarly, Zenni Optical does this with the eyeglasses you may want to purchase. Many fashion retailers now have ways in which customers can enter their favorite clothing items and sizes in order to receive suggestions of similar items from the brand that would fit nicely.*** You can even share a photo of a celebrity or friend and ask it to find a similar shade of lipstick or blush. This technology actually uses chatbots to make suggestions and direct you toward products that fit your particular tastes.

Automating Sales

Your business probably has a sales process that is fairly consistent -- whether you know it or not. It likely involves getting a customer’s attention, directing them to your website, qualifying the lead, sharing an offer, answering questions or concerns about the product and then eventually closing the sale. Chatbots can help you through various parts of this process.

For example, if you are a business consultant, you could set up a chatbot on your website designed to qualify leads and then direct them to set up a consultation. Not everyone who visits your website will necessarily be ready to buy, but you could have a chat pop up that asks people about their business idea, what step of the process they’re currently facing and what their struggles are. If they have a few key characteristics, like a newer business that is struggling with online marketing, you can have the chatbot direct them to your scheduling platform. For large investments, customers probably won’t actually purchase without talking to a real person first, but chatbots can help them set up a free consultation so they can learn more about actually working with you.

Creating a Unique Character

Your chatbot doesn’t have to act as a generic salesman or customer service rep. You can give it a unique personality or character that encourages people to actually interact with you and build some brand loyalty.

For example, Disney created a chatbot-based activity on Facebook Messenger that allowed people to essentially solve crimes with Judy, the main character from Zootopia. By including speech that Judy would say in the movie, it made kids feel like they were part of the action. And creating a game of it made them more interested in the movie itself, and thus more likely to buy tickets.

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