chatbots (plural noun)
a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet:
“chatbots often treat conversations like they’re a game of tennis: talk, reply, talk, reply”
By now, most of you internet savvy users will have come across these programs – some of you will have had a great customer experience, and some, not so much. Your experience was probably determined by the information you are after, and how quickly you were able to obtain it. As a consumer, simple queries you have, such as what time a store will close, or querying a standard returns policy is easily answered through these chatbot experiences.
I want to talk to a person, not a robot
So what happens when you need your experience to go a step further? Programming a chatbot to emulate the customer experience you have when shopping in a store for example. Instead of browsing a shop for items, you can use the many bots across media platforms for your chosen store (if they have one) and mirror the experience you would get from a shop assistant, asking for certain sizes, different colours etc before placing the item into your basket to checkout. Very often, and in cases when a query like a simple size check is required, the customer may not even know they are conversing with a robot!
In a previous article, we briefly touched upon the two types of bots, the basic standard bot and the more sophisticated bots which can tap into systems . The route you decide for your business is based on the level of information you want to share with your customers through a customised program. But as more and more people communicate through online channels, a survey and research undertaken by My Clever has found that people are comfortable with the idea of talking to onlinebots for a much quicker and simpler user experience, detailing the benefits of this experience. Therefore, businesses are relying on the more sophisticated bots to act as the the first line of response to standard queries.
The survey lists ‘getting 24-hour service’ as the main advantage (68%) of using bots, closely followed by ‘quick answers’ (64%) and ‘getting an instant response’ (51%).
That’s all great, but what if my business is b2b?
Now while all these benefits would also spill over to the b2b arena, further down the survey the feedback isn’t as positive, and the reasoning resonates much stronger with b2b businesses whereby queries can be varied and cannot be solved with a simple or generic answer. Noticeably, chatbots didn’t rank very highly when it comes to ‘friendliness and approachability’ (9%), ‘getting detailed/expert answers’ (14%), ‘customer service’ or even ‘dealing with a complaint’ (18%).
B2b businesses have such an array of potential queries that a customer, partner or prospective customer would surely just want to speak directly to someone within the business, no? The survey did question the most effective use of a chatbot, and the answer revealed ‘forwarding to an appropriate human’ highly. Then surely it would make sense to just speak to a human in the first place. Why would you put what your customers thought an unnecessarily level of frustration to begin with, to then be told by an automaton, who in the company they would need to speak with?
One school of thought is that it depends on the business sector. In the technology and service arena, for instance, many customers can have their questions answered by the bot who will easily raise the answers in terms of service, upgrades and troubleshooting, based on predetermined criteria and question clusters. Furthermore, the bot could easily direct the customer to an exact page of a website that is already mapped out. An ideal time-saving task that your, otherwise busy team, would have to do.
I have a great first-hand experience of this as I recently had to understand a VAT issue with a client which needed me to deal directly with HM Revenue and Customs. The endless paperwork and small print blew my mind, however, after a simple conversation with a bot, I was directed to the precise chapter of the documentation that answered my query. A great experience and time saved all round!
As online business becomes ever more prolific, there is a very useful role for chatbots in dealing with the volume of queries and questions that can inevitably arise in the b2b buying process, and post-sale for customer support. Escalation should play a key role in your mapping out of the flow of chatbot engagement – recognising through the level of query when it’s the right time to transfer to a human problem-solver. But, one thing’s for sure – that chatbots on b2b websites can be that 24-hour support team that many buyers now crave and expect. They can also generate leads and collect data for you without being restricted to set working hours or scheduled meetings. As long as bots are introduced into your website with a clear purpose, and not to just bat away queries, then yes, they can bring real value to your b2b service experience. Chatbots are here to stay, so why not give thought to areas of your business where a friendly robotic brand ambassador may make all the difference to a call management and holding system or outsourced tele-support service.