Chatbots are definitely having a moment.
Most of us have encountered one somewhere on the web. For many consumers, the first chatbot experience takes place on Facebook. Certainly, Messenger chatbot use is increasingly common on brand and company pages, and you could probably think of a few examples you’ve personally used right off the top of your head.
While chatbots are still often built on top of messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, more and more business websites are experimenting with direct bot implementation these days, with varying degrees of success.
Are chatbots right for your small business site? First, let’s define what a chatbot is and how it works, then we’ll look at their use on websites in more detail. Finally, we’ll examine some steps you can take to maximize their benefits, for your brand, your site and most importantly for your users.
At its core, a chatbot is code—a piece of software that responds to specific text input with a preprogrammed response, creating a dialogue between your user and the site, through the bot’s interface as displayed on your site.
Chatbots are typically used to perform simple customer service functions, such as:
Essentially, bots are great for streamlining customer interactions and resolving straightforward problems. They’re not ideal for replacing human interaction altogether, but they are effective at sorting out simple requests and issues from the more complex ones, handling the former, and forwarding the latter to a human agent.
Adding a chatbot to your website doesn’t require hiring a developer to code one by hand for you. These days, chatbot solutions abound, such as Instabot or Intercom for WordPress sites. SaaS chatbot integrations help even small businesses with bootstrap budgets take advantage of this powerful technology.
Right off the bat, some of the benefits of a well-programmed chatbot are obvious. You can provide more customization and personalization in user interactions. Your chatbot can address returning users by name, for example, and remember their preferences or specific concerns.
Bots also save you and your company time and money by freeing up personnel for tasks that require human input. Letting your chatbot take some of the load off your customer service team by addressing basic questions and concerns, for example, means that your live agents have more time to devote to taking care of customers with more complicated problems. That leads to more satisfied customers in two ways:
Another potential advantage is heightened privacy protection, especially for industries that regularly deal with sensitive personal information such as banking, health care, and insurance. Chatbots built on third-party platforms such as Messenger don’t belong to your brand and any information transmitted through those bots ultimately may be at risk. Integrating a chatbot on your own site keeps your sensitive user data in-house and confidential.
The biggest risk you run with adding a chatbot to your website is degrading your user’s experience on your site.
You may wonder how that can be. Surely chatbots can only help users, right?
Not necessarily. As with any piece of software, a chatbot is only as good as its coding. More specifically, it’s only as good as it is programmed to be. If a user asks a question the chatbot lacks the code to respond to in a helpful way, the user will only wind up frustrated.
That’s especially true when a chatbot is presented as if it were a human being. If your bot’s interface says something like “Hi, I’m Rosa, how can I help you today?” and is accompanied by an image of an actual person, some users may assume that a real person is on the other end instead of a piece of code and act accordingly. If “Rosa” keeps offering nonresponsive replies, the user’s frustration level will only increase.
Some chatbots may not be ready for primetime, so to speak. While many available solutions appear to be well-coded and highly responsive, others seem to have missed a few steps in development. If the bot you install on your site wasn’t properly tested with actual users, the result could be disastrous, especially when your users find the bot experience unpleasant or unhelpful.
If you’re considering adding a chatbot to your website, you can improve your chances of a smooth and successful rollout with a little preplanning and strategy work.
First, take a look at examples of innovative and useful chatbots on the web and study their use. How do these bots serve their audiences, respectively? What functions do they perform, and how does that performance trump what a human could do? Where are the opportunities for the website, the brand, and the user there?
Next, sketch out and then formalize parameters for your site’s new bot. Think about how things can go wrong and what you can offer right there on the page for your frustrated user as an alternative resource. Examples could include immediate links to fleshed-out “help” sections on your site and a call-now button to reach a live agent.
Commit ahead of time to using the chatbot to augment your human-driven customer service team, not replace it. While it’s perfectly acceptable to suggest users try your bot as a first line of inquiry, don’t ever make them feel that’s all you’re willing to give them. You’ll find your users abandoning your site—and your company—in a hurry.
Finally, make sure you have the resources to host a chatbot. Resources includes actual hardware and software necessary to make sure the bot runs as it should without slowing your site down, which can harm your SEO and overall user experience. It also includes company resources (time, budget, personnel) to keep the bot updated and properly programmed, as well as address problems and customer complaints in a timely fashion.
Chatbots may seem like cool new toys, but they should never be deployed without first engaging in serious analysis and consideration. However, with a little planning and a solid deployment plan, a bot might help everyone involved, including your users.