Chatbots: Basics, Strategy, Best Practices
November 25, 2019
By Natalie Boyd
The idea of using chatbots may seem a little daunting at first. You may be thinking that there’s no way your business could ever successfully utilize one, that it’s way too complicated, and it won’t really help the bottom line of your business — it's simply not true.
Chatbots are not as complicated as you might think. We're here to help give you the information you need to leverage this technology, and we'll also demonstrate how chatbots can absolutely improve your bottom line by automating conversations throughout your business.
Below, we give you the basics of chatbots, help you articulate your goals, create a plan with some good old-fashioned chatbot strategy, and share industry best practices.
If you’re not familiar with chatbots, they’re simply programs built to automatically engage with your audience — in website chat windows, on social messaging platforms (like Facebook and Twitter), or via SMS text.
They can be programmed a multitude of ways: to deliver the same response every time, to deliver different responses based on keywords, and to utilize machine learning to adapt responses to fit the conversation.
And they're very effective, as shown by these insights:
- 70% of millennials reported having positive chatbot experiences.
- 27% of total chatbot chats complete an engagement
- 57% percent of businesses with chatbots deliver a return on investment (ROI) with minimal effort.
- 90% of businesses report that complaints are resolved faster with chatbot technology.
- Google Trends data shows that search volume around chatbots has grown by 19X in the last 5 years.
Chatbots improve the customer experience by:
- Providing 24/7 access to quick answers on demand
- Handling an unlimited amount of virtual inquiries in real time, simultaneously
- Automatically routing questions with full chatbot transcripts to the appropriate agents, preventing customers from falling through the cracks
Benefits of Chatbot Technology
It should also come as no surprise that there are multiple benefits to utilizing chatbots. The technology is expected to experience a 136 percent growth rate in the next 18 months. These benefits include:
1. Saving Time and Money
Imagine if more than half of your customer service staff could utilize their time solving complex problems, rather than spending their time answering simple questions such as, “What is your phone number?” or “What are your business hours?”
According to a Salesforce survey, that’s exactly what’s happening, with 65 percent of agents utilizing chatbots and subsequently solving complex problems, versus the remainder spending most of their time answering simple, repetitive questions.
2. Generating Leads and Revenue
Chatbots are excellent resources for increasing conversion rates and generating revenue. For example, “Why are you visiting us?” is a common question asked of prospects. One could use chatbot technology to start the conversation, and based on the answers, offer something of value. This can range from offering a free quote to prompting a prospect to become pre-qualified, to sending them a personalized plan in exchange for contact information.
Not only does this help generate leads and increase revenue, but it also helps fight off the fatigue of asking and answering the same questions over and over, leading to a happier staff with more quality leads and more time to spend on meaningful work.
3. Guiding Users to Better Outcomes
Imagine visiting a website and not knowing where to find the information you’re looking for—or not knowing exactly what you’re looking for? Maybe you clicked on an interesting ad on Facebook or heard the brand name on the radio, and decided to visit the website without any known purpose or direction. By utilizing chatbot technology, you can ask the user qualifying questions in order to route them to the best location on your website and help them find the information they’re seeking.
You’ll want to think through the questions you’ll ask of your website users to get them to the place where they’ll find the information they’re most interested in.
Depending on your industry, these questions could include:
- What challenges are you currently facing?
- What outcomes do you hope to achieve?
- Where are you located?
- What type of industry do you work in?
- Would you like to speak with one of our customer support representatives?
Take, for example, an airline website. There are a multitude of options for users to choose from: departure/arrival dates, cities, upgrades, desired flight times, total cost, and so on. By utilizing chatbot technology, an airline can ask a few specific questions, such as “What price range are you looking for?” or “Are you flexible on your travel dates?” In this way, the airline is able to assist customers in the complicated process of planning a trip which results in a fantastic user experience.
To see an airline chatbot in action, check out British Airways Messenger, Austrian Airlines Messenger, Airasia Messenger, and Alaska Airlines.
4. Providing After-Hours Support
In today’s world of instant messaging, videos on demand, and music that’s only a click away, folks expect an immediate response to their inquiries, and chatbots provide the 24-hour support they desire—something that’s not possible when a business is closed.
In short, chatbots can help you significantly decrease your average response time, bringing you one step closer to meeting your customers’ expectations.
Your Chatbot Strategy and Industry Best Practices
In a sense, creating a chatbot is rather simple. You create the bot, advertise it, engage users, and grow your business. But there are a few steps you’ll need to take in order to go from creating a bot to growing your business, and those steps require a strategy.
A successful chatbot strategy will be well thought out with a thoroughly researched and dedicated implementation plan. Chatbots have been around for a few years now, and your users will expect a heck of a lot more than a simple “Hello” or “Sorry, I didn’t get that.” The goal of a chatbot is to automate conversation, and at the same time, make the user feel like they’re having a one-on-one conversation with your brand. When done strategically, this will ensure that the user has a pleasant, on-brand experience.
Before you begin, you’ll want to determine what you would like the main user experience to be and what sorts of conversation flows you’d like them to have. You’ll want to consider your audience, goals, what platforms to leverage, your content strategy, the voice and personality of your bot, customer journeys, best possible responses, conversation trees, visual components, and calls to action.
Your Chatbot Audience
Before you develop your chatbot strategy, you’ll want to think about your intended audience because your ultimate goal is to connect to this audience in a relatable and useful way. Looking at the scope and anatomy of the conversations that currently happen between your customers and your customer service representatives will be a good place to start.
When working through your strategy, always keep your audience top of mind. What are they looking to gain by using your chatbot? A quick answer? The resolution of a complaint or problem? A more detailed answer to a query? A real human being to answer their question? These are the needs you should be prepared to meet.
Goals and Use Cases
When developing the goals and use cases for your chatbot strategy, you’ll want to consider the best-case scenario for your audience, what actions you would like them to take, and what type of conversions you’re looking for. Is your goal to resolve customer service issues, promote a new product, or generate quality leads? Take some time to consider your goals and use cases, while being mindful of what you want to accomplish by building a chatbot into your marketing strategy.
Choose Platforms to Leverage
There are a few options to consider when deciding where to place your chatbot: Your website, Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Message, and so on. Which platform you choose will determine the types of conversations you’ll have.
For example, it’s likely that someone coming to the homepage of your website will have more knowledge of your product or service than someone who simply read one of your blog posts found through a social media platform. Take this information into consideration when programming the language of your chatbots.
In addition, the language you use on the various platforms will also change—demographics vary on the different social media platforms so the types of questions asked on Facebook, for example, will differ from those asked on Twitter.
Build Out Your Content Strategy
What sorts of questions do your customers frequently seek answers to? A good place to start is with your own FAQs. You may already have these built into your website, or you may seek them out internally through your customer service, sales, and marketing teams. You can also do a search on Quora to see if there’s been any chatter about your brand. Once you have these, you can build out the proper conversation flows to guide users to the correct answers.
If your chatbot goals are purely marketing focused, you can also evaluate your existing content and build your conversation flows from there.
Craft Your Chatbot’s Voice and Personality
Have you ever asked Apple’s Siri if she can dance, or if she ever sleeps, or what zero is divided by zero? Siri will answer all those questions and more because she was designed to humanize the Apple experience.
Chatbots can absolutely have a name, a personality, be funny, be serious, be witty, share puns, and make jokes. Whatever sort of personality you feel would fit the nature of your brand, bring in your most creative minds to develop the voice of your chatbot and some consistent content guidelines that align with your brand.
Be sure to do the following:
1. Write an Enticing Opening Message
Write an enticing opening message to get your users to respond to your chatbot. Something like “Hello, I’m a robot. How may I help you?” isn’t exactly compelling. But perhaps you could use something along the lines of: “Good evening, you’re up pretty late, but I’m just a robot so I don’t need to sleep. How can I help you?”
2. Be Compelling and Ask Questions
Be conversational. Be fun. Talk to your users the way you would with your friends (while maintaining the voice of your brand).
Use your chatbot to create a human experience and have a little fun! Use visuals when you can, including images, animated gifs, and emojis. Even something as simple as a wave hello humanizes the experience.
Once you have your customers’ attention, keep the conversation going by asking questions. More on this later.
Don’t try to convince your customers that they’re chatting with a human being. Let them know right off the bat they’re chatting with a bot. The transparency will help you build trust with the customer, and at the same time, let them know that there are limitations to the conversation.
Map Your Customer Journeys
Next, map out what each conversation might look like. What questions are likely to be asked? What are the answers to those questions? What sorts of follow-up questions are likely to be asked? And so on.
You’ll want to be sure to provide multiple answers to each question, so that a user can choose the answer that best suits them. By doing this, you’re essentially building a conversation tree with each branch representing a question and the leaves representing all the possible answers.
The various journeys can include a hello flow, qualify flow, qualified flow, and not qualified flow, as well as a catch-all flow when a user says something that a chatbot doesn’t understand.
Pro Tip: When a conversation gets several layers deep, direct that user to a live representative.
Utilize Call-to-Action Buttons
Once a user has answered all of your questions, make sure to include a clear call-to-action button to drive them to a specific resolution. This can be a specific product or service they’re looking for, an in-depth blog or a specific page on your website about the topic in question, or a direct link to the checkout page. A chatbot can be your most valuable conversion tool. Consider all of the above when mapping your user journey and think about exactly where you want to lead your customers.
Test, Test, and Test Again
Now that you’ve done all the work, make sure to test your chatbot before you release it to the public. Mapping a user’s journey is a complex process and can go in dozens of different directions. In order to make sure you’re providing the best user experience—and that users are being led in the exact direction you desire—make sure to test every single one of your interactions.
A good chatbot platform will have the capability to provide a live preview, so that you can test all your flows before you go live. Once you’ve gone live, your work isn’t quite done, at least not in the beginning. Monitor the interactions to make sure your carefully designed conversations are flowing with their intended purpose. If you find the majority of users are getting stuck on a certain question/answer, or just closing out of the program altogether, monitor and adjust your chatbot to prevent future frustrations.
Consider Evolving Technology
Because it’s predicted that by 2021, 36.6 percent of internet users will use voice-activated technology (up from 24.5 percent in 2017), it’s important to consider using voice technology in your chatbot. This technology is relatively new and there are inherent complications that voice presents, such as background noise, poor internet connections, and so on.
However, with the rise in popularity of this technology (think Alexa and Siri), it’s important to recognize that voice control is the direction chatbots are going so you should consider preparations to make your chatbot voice-responsive.
According to Business Insider experts, 80 percent of businesses by 2020 will use chatbots in some form or another, and although chatbots are still a relatively new technology, their future looks promising.
As technology advances, so will the positive impacts on a business’s bottom line.
About the author
Natalie Boyd was formerly a Marketing Specialist at SmartBug Media with 10 years of experience supporting in-house, freelance, and agency clients. She is passionate about using inbound marketing to help businesses succeed and make meaningful connections with their target audience. Read more articles by Natalie Boyd.