Chatbots Engage Employees and Reduce Costs
You're researching your employer's healthcare benefits. After looking at several options, you think you've found the one you might want. However, you have several questions about essential parts of the program — its exclusions, what it will and won't cover. It's late at night, so you think you'll need to wait until the morning. Then, as you're about to leave the page, a chatbot appears in a window to your right. It asks if you have any questions. So, you begin to ask your questions, and it provides the answers you need. Finally, you've made your decision. You've found the plan that fits your needs. You've become another example of how chatbots work their magic.
It may not be a employee looking for the right benefits plan. It could be a buyer for a business looking for a crucial piece of software. Or it could be a community member looking to pay their car tax. In each of these cases and many others, businesses and organizations are increasingly using chatbots to perform repetitive and basic functions that once were done by humans. After all, the purpose of a chatbot is not human replacement but human augmentation.
Growth of Chatbots
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the use of chatbots in business and government has been robust. Chatbot market growth is expected to hit $3.62 billion by 2030. Salesforce reported in 2019 that 77% of surveyed call agents reported that using technology like chatbots to automate routine tasks allowed them to focus on more complex tasks.
Gartner predicts that 50% of knowledge workers will use an executive virtual assistant by 2025, an increase of 48% since 2019. The Gartner Technological Roadmap Survey also reports currently only about 25% of customer service and support leaders deploy chatbots. However, the same survey predicts that 38% are running pilots or plan to deploy chatbots by 2023.
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What Is a Chatbot?
Chatbots are computer programs designed to simulate and process human conversations and engage with and receive messages. Depending on the type of chatbot used, they can be programmed to answer questions the same way each time. Chatbots can also use natural language processing and machine learning to adapt their answers to the questions they receive.
Some businesses use a simple chatbot that answers questions with a single-line response. Other companies use more sophisticated chatbots that learn with every new bit of information and deliver increasing levels of personalization.
Misconceptions exist about the term chatbot. Although the terms chatbot and bot are similar, a bot is an automated program used for good or bad purposes. The negative connotation of a bot is attributable to a history of hackers using bots to infiltrate, usurp and generally cause trouble in the digital space. A good example is how Russian hackers were able to use bots to interfere with the 2016 election in the United States.
Chatbots are not bots, and bots are not chatbots.
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Types of Work Chatbots
Chatbots fulfill many functions. The chatbot you select for a particular function will depend on the role you want the chatbot to play. It can answer a simple query or be a digital assistant that can perform executive actions.
There are three main types of chatbots:
Declarative or Task-oriented Chatbots
These chatbots focus on performing one task. They are rule-based. While they can use some natural language processing, they use little to no machine learning. When queried, they produce automated but conversational responses. They work best for support and service functions as a form of interactive FAQ. They answer questions about business hours, directions, phone numbers or simple transactions that don't require in-depth information, such as requesting a copy of a marriage license or a driver's license from a municipal or state authority.
Conversational or Data-driven Chatbots
These chatbots are often known as digital assistants. Programmed to analyze and perform more sophisticated functions than task-oriented chatbots, they use machine learning to accumulate information and learn from previous questions. They can even initiate conversations. Two well-known examples of this kind of chatbot are Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. These programs not only answer your questions but can make recommendations for you based on past questions. These programs try to anticipate needs.
Sales teams can connect with consumers for real-time chats. When a customer initiates a conversation with a digital chatbot, a human support staffer can assume a conversational role at any point. Or, if a customer has a complicated problem to resolve, a support person may take over the chat to assist that individual.
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Why Were Chatbots Created?
As North America increasingly becomes a mobile-first society, chatbots that work via a smartphone play an increasingly important role in how businesses interact with employees and customers alike. Although companies have used simple chatbots for years (many believe that the chatbot originated from Alan Turing's 1950 version of intelligent machines), the COVID-19 pandemic supercharged their use. Many employees found themselves working remotely from home, customers didn't want to go into stores and ask staff questions, and call centers wanted to keep staff to a minimum to avoid spreading infection.
Chatbots are convenient for consumers and help businesses save money. Many companies provide FAQs and troubleshooting guides on their intranet or external website. However, consumers often prefer to be able to ask a question and receive an answer rather than look something up.
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Who Uses Chatbots?
While retailers have used chatbots for many years to help with customer support, they have been increasingly adopted by other industries, especially during the pandemic. Some industries that have increasingly turned to chatbots include:
Chatbots can help with simple routine tasks such as scheduling appointments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, chatbots were used to update state health organizations about individuals' health conditions and schedule appointments to receive a vaccination.
The travel industry benefits specifically from the 24/7 availability of chatbots. Once a customer has used a particular travel agency, their information is available for a chatbot to answer their questions when they return.
Companies can use chatbots to connect with potential hires and help them with the onboarding process. Then, they can schedule healthcare, benefits and vacation time once the new employee starts working with the company.
When customers are looking for a new home or apartment to rent, they want their questions answered as quickly as possible. One reason is they're probably looking at several different properties and don't want to spend all day house hunting. Chatbots allow real estate firms to answer questions about floor space, the number of bathrooms, monthly rent or how to schedule a showing. If the customer continues researching a particular property, the agent can contact them to answer more complicated questions.
Chatbots can help customers locate ATMs, answer questions about balances or schedule a meeting with the banker about a loan. Unlike human bank representatives, chatbots can answer customers' questions 24/7.
Hospitality and Hotels
Using virtual concierge chatbots, customers can reserve rooms, request additional amenities, order room service, pay bills and gather information about local restaurants and entertainment.
It's possible to order any food you want using a chatbot on a service like DoorDash or Grubhub. Many local restaurants and grocery stores offer similar services. You can use a chatbot to order your favorite kind of pizza. You can also place an order for groceries at the local supermarket and have them delivered to your door.
Few operations were hit as hard by the pandemic as education. Chatbots helped students and teachers in several ways. They simplified the application process. Chatbots answered students' questions about courses. They shared exam announcements. Chatbots notified students and staff when campuses were closed because of a weather situation, facilities malfunctions or if an active shooter threatened the campus.
Automobile industry usage of chatbots has grown progressively more robust in the past two years. Customers can now use chatbots to book test drives, schedule maintenance, locate nearby dealers and even apply for loans to see if they qualify.
The Value of Chatbots
If you want to stay competitive in the business world, you need to automate as many of your processes as possible. Think about ATMs at banks and self-checkouts at grocery stores. Fast food restaurants use kiosks that let you order rather than stand in line. Airlines offer stations that let you print your ticket and baggage tag. These automated processes provide convenience for customers and allow businesses to staff appropriately and handle high-traffic situations without adding more staff.
Chatbots are another element of the automation process for many businesses. Before chatbots, companies and their call centers relied exclusively on humans. With a chatbot, businesses can personalize the employee and customer experience, scale chatbots to perform numerous tasks and reduce churn. For instance, if a call center had been inadequately staffed or if there was a sudden high volume of calls, customers would often have to wait extended periods, increasing their frustration or the likelihood that they would find another company to work with. Chatbots can handle the overflow, so consumers don't have to wait to have basic questions answered. Instead of dealing with simple queries that eat up a lot of time, staff members can focus on more complex issues.
Chatbots allow businesses to:
Save Time and Money
Every time a chatbot answers a simple query, that leaves an employee free to answer a more complicated question. The more questions answered by a chatbot, the more significant the savings in time and money are.
Companies can use chatbots to qualify prospects. If a chatbot asks people why they are visiting a webpage, they may provide an answer that a sales rep can use to make a sale. Chatbots can collect email and physical addresses. This creates more qualified leads for a sales team and reduces the time spent searching for these leads. After all, the customer may have told the chatbot that they are interested in your product.
Solve Users' Problems
One of the main reasons that people visit a website, whether it is an internally facing intranet or an consumer-facing external site, is to solve a problem. Often, they don't know where to find the necessary information. However, as complex as the problem may be and as much as they need assistance, they don't want to wait around a long time. A chatbot can help them find the information they want using a series of questions that keeps them engaged. For instance, you could program your chatbot to seek the following information:
- What is your problem?
- What is your ultimate solution?
- Where are you located?
- Would you like to speak to a representative for more personal support?
Depending on how often the chatbots answer these questions, they can provide needed information or refer people to a support staffer who can help.
After Hours Support
Not every person will call during business hours. They may be surfing the web late at night and see something that attracts their interest. Or they may face an emergency where they need information only you can provide immediately. Emergencies are one of the most popular uses for chatbots. If your business doesn't offer 24/7 human support, and many companies don't, you want to deploy a robust chatbot. The days when employees and customers would gladly wait until the next morning are over. They want answers when they need help, and chatbots are one of the best ways to help them.
Users Have Some Fun
In the past, support conversations were pretty run of the mill. However, chatbots allow users a little more fun while engaging with your company. Some stores now allow customers to order products by only using an emoji. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines features a multilingual chatbot. H&M's stores have a chatbot that uses previous queries and machine learning to suggest possible outfits consumers would enjoy.
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The Benefits of Chatbots
While we've listed some of the benefits of chatbots above, many businesses have used chatbots to go beyond their employee and customer expectations. Some of the benefits of using chatbots include:
When users visit a website, it's the perfect time to start a conversation with them. Chatbots programmed with natural language processing and machine learning can begin a conversation when interest is at its peak.
The Red Carpet
Every business has employees and customers it highly values. When a valued user returns, data available to the chatbot can create a personalized greeting. If necessary, it can immediately connect them with a representative.
Find the Best Leads
Your service team doesn't have time to talk to every potential request. Chatbots can help qualify users, shift them to a support representative needed or schedule a meeting or call. This saves your team valuable time and effort and allows them to concentrate on users who've already indicated an interest or need.
Reduce Employee and Customer Churn
One of the best things about chatbots is that they can help reduce frustration. When forced to wait on hold to speak to a customer service rep, employees and potential customers alike often quickly leave. Chatbots promptly answer questions, don't send people on endless journeys for information and are available 24/7. Chatbots give them a reason to stay.
Notify Support Staff of Complicated Questions
While chatbots are helpful, they can't answer everything. Chatbots that use natural language processing and machine learning can identify when a user needs to shift to live support staff to deal with their problem. The benefit is that the chatbot has already answered most of the simple questions, which leaves the support staff free to dig deep into the deeper problem.
While it would be wonderful if chatbots performed smoothly in every situation, there is still the potential to hit a few potholes. Companies should be aware of the benefits and challenges of using chatbots.
Not everyone uses the same language. Some people prefer slang words, have accents or are poor spellers. While not necessarily the chatbots' fault, these situations can cause them to misinterpret a request and generate a wrong answer.
Who Are You?
If you've not integrated your chatbot with your internal employee resource planning system, CRM and other tools that provide essential data, they can have trouble recognizing valued users. This means they could start asking qualifying questions the user has already answered during a previous visit. Some users may not think it's worth the time and effort to answer the questions again.
Too Few Conversational Opportunities
Chatbots that rely on natural language processing and machine learning can complete more important tasks. A simple chatbot will only provide a limited number of answers to questions. While simple chatbots are appropriate for quickly answered questions like directions or hours of operation, use an AI-based chatbot to help find the more complete information they need.
A November 2021 report by the consulting firm McKinsey found that 71% of customers expect a personalized experience when they visit a website or use a chatbot. Furthermore, 76% of customers grow frustrated when they don't receive a personalized experience. Users who want answers to more than a few simple questions want your chatbots to deliver a personalized experience. If they don't find it, they will leave and go to a competitor who does offer the experience.
A few years ago, no one thought you could buy a car from a vending machine or that you could book your travel without ever speaking to a travel agent. The kind of personalization consumers want in 2022 may be completely different than the kind of personalization they want in 2030. Chatbots need to keep pace with changes in the way people use technology. Businesses can't set it and forget it. They need to constantly audit their chatbots and see how they can improve their interactions with employees. Ask external customers and staff alike about their chatbot experiences. It will give you valuable clues about how to improve.
Getting Started With Chatbots
If your company has decided to start using chatbots or increase the use of chatbots, what are the most important things you should consider?
Why Do You Want to Use a Chatbot?
There are many ways to use chatbots. However, the only ones that matter to you are those that will help your business. Before you use a chatbot, think about how you want to use it. What goals do you want to accomplish with your chatbot? How can it help save you time and money? Where are the pain points in the employee journey that a chatbot will fix? Don't toss a chatbot online without having a specific purpose for its use.
Where Do You Want to Use a Chatbot?
You may have a chatbot presence for your company on several different platforms: website, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram or TikTok, to name a few. Program your chatbots accordingly. Be aware of the demographics of each platform — Facebook tends to skew older than Instagram or TikTok. Do your homework and research the audience for each platform. Use that research to help program the chatbot you'll use on each one.
What's Your Content Strategy?
Consider the content your chatbots provide to your customers. Chatbots used for marketing-focused experiences can offer more in-depth content. Simple chatbots can reproduce FAQs and troubleshooting guides. You can use data from sales teams and call centers to discover what questions your customers ask most often and program that simple chatbot to answer these queries.
Voice and Personality
If you program your chatbots to have audio conversations, you don't want them sounding like robots. Give them a little personality, an interesting voice and a name. For instance, Apple's Siri lets you program its agent to sound like a man or a woman with several different accents. Siri can sound American, Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, Danish, French-Canadian, Australian or British, to name a few. People know they are talking to an automated system, but giving it a voice and a personality creates a more personalized experience.
Think About Your Opening Message
You want to engage users from the very beginning. Craft an opening message that will be compelling and welcoming. If you craft the first question, "How can I help you?" or "What are you looking for today?" it begins the process of pulling the user into the conversation.
Choose Good Responses
Users don't want to read a series of yes and no answers. Based on the data you receive, think about the best possible responses when considering the questions they may ask. Some may need more than one response to a question, and you want the user to be able to choose the correct one. The more and better responses you create, the more likely your user will be happy with the experience.
Throw in Visual Content Like Emojis and GIFs
Messages can be more compelling and personal if you add an emoji or a GIF. Visual content can be platform-dependent. Facebook's users may be perfectly happy with text-based answers. Potential customers on WhatsApp or TikTok may appreciate a more visual response.
Test and Monitor Your Responses
It's a good idea to test possible conversations before you launch a chatbot. You don't want users getting stuck in a loop and feeling frustrated because your responses are incomplete or confusing.
Once you launch a chatbot, don't forget about it. Regularly monitor every chatbot to make sure it's doing the job it's supposed to do.
The Future of Chatbots
As technology improves and changes, chatbots will continue their mission of human augmentation over the coming decade. Businesses will increasingly use chatbots to provide more time for human staff to be creative and innovative. Humans will focus more of their time on strategic goals rather than tactical ones.
Chatbots will increasingly find greater use in the mobile space. As communication companies increase their development of 5G and other significant technology, users will be able to complete more and more complex tasks using chatbots. Businesses will be able to build increasingly complex chatbots to help them.
One day, we may even reach the point where everyone with a smartphone will have a virtual assistant chatbot. Chatbots will learn over time from your repeated questions and requests. They'll perform a variety of essential tasks that will help you save time and make life more convenient.
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