Chatbots - a service, powered by rules, and sometimes artificial intelligence, that your customers interact with via a chat interface - have come a long way over the past couple of years, from basic robo-helpers embedded into websites, to more human-like helpers central to aiding with customer service on social media. Rather than a complete turn-off, nowadays, many people actually enjoy interacting with them:
"Many businesses already have phone trees and they do work though most users get grumpy using them. Text based response trees are much easier and faster and that is what I expect a lot of early bot interactions to be. Sometimes with ability to chat with a live person."
Chatbots can be integrated with eCommerce platforms, enabling you to monetize your social media accounts - including Facebook Messenger. Chatbots are changing the way customers interact with brands, and because decent chatbot technology is still new, building a chatbot now means a strategic advantage over the competition.
While I would never advocate trying to pretend that your chatbot is an actual human assistant, the following tips will ensure that it provides your customers with a highly satisfying experience.
If you're wondering if your business needs a chatbot or not, here's one compelling reason:
Chatbots can give your customers a more personalized experience than, say, a website FAQ, without the need to hire additional staff.
If your customers tend to message you outside of office hours, at a time when you either can't, or don't want to reply yourself, then a chatbot can help to fill that gap.
What's more, evidence suggests that mobile users are spending more time than ever in messenger apps, even more than on social networks:
"People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services."
The simplest way to create a chatbot (even if you have no programming experience) is to use a build-it-yourself platform. Popular tools include Chattypeople and Chatfuel, both of which include free options.
Now you know how chatbots can benefit your business, and you're raring to go, don't do anything before you read the following advice - essential to get start your project off on the right footing.
1. Decide the aim of your chatbot
When you know what the core business purpose of your chatbot is before you build it - one thing it will do really well is best if this is your first time building one - you'll be in the best position to deliver one that serves your customer's needs well.
Do you want it to answer common customer service questions, filter people through to your website to make a purchase, or offer product recommendations? etc.
Whatever your objectives, it's important to have an objective that you can collect data against and use as a baseline for optimization. Many chatbot services enable you to create "goals", and optimize content flows and re-engagement strategies to ensure that you're driving people to your desired outcomes.
2. Choose between guided responses or AI
Some chatbots integrate artificial intelligence to converse by letting customers type freely and using keywords to guess what they want to achieve - and learning all the time.
As impressive as this can be, the technology isn't perfect, which can lead to a frustrating user experience - for many brands, chatbots that make use of guided responses are more than adequate.
Guided responses ask users simple questions (often with multiple choices) and ask them to type a predetermined response. By keeping communication between customer and chatbot structured in this way, customers are much more likely to follow along successfully.
One very wise thing to do is have your chatbot, in its welcome message, clearly outline what it's capable of, i.e. 'please answer using the words or options provided, not type in full sentences'.
What's more, unlike a typical Help site with tabs, links and buttons - or real human conversation - chatbot users may initially be faced with an unfamiliar blank screen. Help them out by setting up automatic prompts, so your chatbot can proactively provide options to get your clients started.
3. Mindmap your chatbot in full
It's important to plan the conversation flow of your chatbot carefully - that way, you'll spot any initial black spots before you go live, show clients and colleagues how the chatbot will function in principle, and be able to test and tweak it over time more easily.
Conversation trees map out all the user journeys through the conversation. They can be built in mind mapping software like Xmind, or even in a program like Microsoft Powerpoint.
When your bot is newly-built, it doesn't need to be everything to everyone. By setting expectations and starting small, you can learn from your audience's behavior and slowly develop new versions with improved functionality.
4. Work on the small-talk
Once you've got the main flow and structure of your chatbot's conversation down, have a think about the small words, phrases, and quips that will give it personality and help keep your customer onside.
- Keep language simple and concise, avoiding any jargon.
- Don't use gender-specific pronouns, as you never know who's on that side of the interface.
- Create witty replies for unsupported topics so that the bot doesn't appear dumb, and the user is encouraged to try something else
- Add a variety of canned replies to make the conversation more human-like, e.g. what's your response to "tell me a joke" or "you suck" going to be?
- Adding emoji, photos, and other media where apt is a good way to make your bot stand out.
5. Test your chatbot to breaking point
Never ever think about rolling your chatbot out without a slew of testing - both behind closed doors and in the real world.
Rope in the help of colleagues, friends, and dedicated fans to provide you with honest feedback as a means to improve the experience before a full launch. Ask users to make a note of the last comment and/or failed responses to help fine tune your library of responses.
In spite of thorough testing, failure will occur. It's best to accept that a bot is going to get stuck at some point or another in a conversational user experience.
The best way around it is to plan for it and make the broken experience as pain-free as possible. In situations where the conversation hits a dead-end, show users that you understand their pain and offer human intervention as seamlessly as possible - tell them how and when to get in touch, or how you can get back to them.
6. Tell people about your chatbot
At a minimum, you'll need to let people know the bot exists to get customers on board.
Promote it wherever you prompt people to ask for help (on your website, receipts, email signature, etc.). In addition, consider some public promotion of it before launch.
This post originally appeared on Andrew Macarthy's blog.