It seems, since 2016, tech nerds, IT buffs, and entrepreneurs alike have spoken highly of chatbot technology. Yet, the path to mass implementation hasn’t been easy.

Facebook’s release of chatbots into their ecosystem a few years ago left a lot on the table initially.

The foundation of the technology is fantastic. What makes or breaks productivity is the approach to build the bot. The dialogue flow aka user interface scripts are key in the development phase.

When a bot is built well, it can be amazingly disruptive; in a great way. For example, Amazon Alexa has the capability to produce personal gift recommendations.

Robot in the office

Think about that for a moment. Let that settle in. In a moment’s notice, Amazon’s AI combs the web for your friend’s search data, digging up what they’ve considered purchasing recently, and then offers that info to you post haste.

It’s a tad scary, but a positive perk in the modern era of technology.

Recently, Google activated a chatbot that was so realistic, it fooled the testers into thinking they were talking to an actual person.

Gratefully, business owners don’t really need that high level of chatbot technology to drive positive results for their company.

The data is in; installing a half-assed chatbot will end up doing more harm than good.

That is why it imperative to know the pros and cons of a chatbot before adding one to your arsenal of business tools.

Computer on a desk

The Ups & Downs Of Chatbots

Chatbots are quick, precise, and are able to pickup on the users’ needs. With the installation of machine learning, messages will improve to personalize the user experience.

At Backroad Technologies, we use chatbots on our website. The feature is seamless and instigates conversation to answer the right questions or to set up meetings for us.

Prequalifying customers, to me, is the biggest perk when using a chatbot for any business.

The quality of leads definitely improves because the chatbot, in a way, sifts through inquires to see who are the ideal candidates or not, thus wasting less of your precious time.

Of course, chatbots aren’t practical for every business. Humans are still vital for complex services.

Some businesses, for example, offer in-depth and specific consultations that are just too detailed to be off boarded by automation technology.

If a bot is setup incorrectly, it will cause issues.

Chatbots can struggle to hold people’s attention. According to BotAnalytics, 40 percent of users don’t get past the first text, while another 25 percent abandon the conversation after the second.

This data should be taken with a grain of salt though. This data does not put into consideration the quality of each marketing campaign behind various businesses.

Although, when the conversation gets lengthy with a user, a bot may have issues picking up on common expressions and sarcasm.

In these instances, a bot with AI integration would be an ideal solution.

Preparing For Launch

Making the decision to launch a chatbot shouldn’t be done unless the plan and process is set for productive outcomes. Here are three processes we take to get results:

1. Define the purpose of the bot and how advanced you’d like it.

There are two types of bots: rule-based and advanced. Rule-based bots are quick to build. The setup shouldn't take more than two weeks, but are also limited in their capability to adapt to the user.

For example, a pizza place that just needs to collect addresses and menu choices can easily get away with using a rule based bot.

Now, advanced bots utilize machine learning to get a better grasp of natural language.

As the bot collects more data about the average user, there is incremental improvement in terms of productivity and adaptability.

Emarketer recently released an article, stating that AI bots, initially, can manage 65 percent of inquires, but after a while, the bot can manage up to 80 percent.

Regardless if the bot is rule-based or advanced, the purpose definition will result in success or failure.

Take KLM Royal Dutch Airlines' chatbot as an example. Their bot helps customers book tickets, alerts them to any gate changes and updates them on the status of their flights -- it handles more than 16,000 interactions a week.

AI brain

2. Don’t trick your users into thinking the bot is a real person.

As a startup, your chatbot likely won't be super advanced, but it should at least be able to understand the flow of the conversation.

Accomplishing this natural language understanding isn’t an easy feat, but it shouldn’t be unleashed on your customers without it.

Even if your bot somehow sounds as natural at Google's, I wouldn't recommend trying to fool customers into thinking it's a human.

When visitors enter our site, we're sure to let them know right away that a bot has greeted them. And if the conversation requires it, don't hesitate to let a human representative take over.

In fact, a joint survey by Drift, SurveyMonkey Audience, Salesforce and myclever found 43 percent of people still prefer to communicate with humans over bots. So though a chatbot can be helpful, it should not be treated as a complete replacement over human interaction.

3. Audit your bot performance.

Juniper Research released data that projects chatbots saving businesses $8 billion by 2022.

This is because person-to-person interaction costs seven times as much as an automated response, according to a survey by ContactBabel.

To reap these cost-savings benefits, the bot needs to perform in three key areas:

It should comprehend what a user is saying and respond without error; it should deliver meaningful, personalized information that keeps users engaged; and it should communicate this information as quickly as possible to maintain a natural conversation.

As you're evaluating the performance of your bot, make sure to measure it based on these key aspects.

Chatbots aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. They require a deep understanding of how customers are communicating with your brand.

But while they take some work and research to implement, using a chatbot has made a profound impact on our business.

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