SoftwareTechnology
20 / 02 / 20

What Are Chatbots? Everything You Need to Know

Read up on artificial intelligence enough, and you’ll see the word ‘chatbots’ floating around, somewhere.

You may be pondering the question, what are chatbots? Or better yet, how do chatbots work?

Here’s the short and snappy definition:

Chatbots are a type of program/interactive agent that can automatically engage with the messages they receive.

Some chatbots are programmed to give the same response to every message; others can use the powers of machine learning to adapt their response to the context.

This process is what we call conversational AI.

Screenshot of a chatbot conversation
Credit: Loyalty Apps

If you’re not impressed yet, you will be when you hear about the capabilities of chatbots.

Chatbots - also known as 'conversational agents' - are intelligent enough to help you with many tasks.

They can tell you the weather, for example; schedule meetings for you and even supply you with quality customer service. And that is barely a scratch on the tip of the iceberg.

Thanks to chatbots, you no longer have to endure long, awkward silences when customer service places you on hold over the telephone.

Some companies feature chatbots on their website pages. So, if you have any urgent queries, you can tell it to the chatbot, and the chatbot will swiftly connect you to the person who can answer it.

Want to order some pizza online? Yes. Chatbots can help you with that, too.

Domino’s, for example, allows you to customise the toppings on your pizza, and order it all from the comfort of your Facebook messenger.

I’ll stop there. I think you get the gist. The message here is clear; chatbots make life easier for consumers.

Additionally, chatbots can even play an impactful role in conversational commerce. You can learn about how chatbots can elevate the customer experience through conversational commerce in this in-depth Medium blog post.

In this blog post, however, we’ll explore everything you need to know about chatbots; from the benefits of chatbots to how you can use chatbots to serve your customers better.

The Benefits of Chatbots

You may be wondering “what are chatbots used for?” You can apply chatbots to many uses.  

As the level of modern technology improves, you can expect to find more and more automated processes. Think, for example, about the self-checkout machines featured in some supermarkets, or the interactive kiosks you might find at your local McDonald’s.

To stay competitive in modern business, you need to automate as many of your processes as you reasonably can. Chatbots are a good place to start.

Here are some of the reasons why you might want to invest in a chatbot; here are the benefits of chatbots:

1. Be there for your customers, 24/7

Your live chat support team need sleep – chatbots, on the other hand, don’t. Chatbots can help deal with customer needs outside of business hours, at the times when your staff are unavailable.

A chatbot that is available around the clock can supply customers and prospective clients with the information they need at any given time.

Consumers expect swifter responses than the ones most businesses can guarantee. As stated by Sprout Social’s Q2 2016 Index, customers expect to receive a reply to their messages within 0 to 4 hours.

Many businesses, however, typically take up to 10 hours to reply. If you are one of those businesses, you can lower that waiting time and match it to customer expectations with the help of chatbots.

2. Create a better customer support journey

The quality of your customer service needs to be on par with the expectations of your customers.

Nine times out of ten, your customers will expect you to provide customer service that is swift, effective and efficient.

Enter customer service chatbots.  

When it comes to customer support, chatbots can help in many different ways. They can, for example, reduce the time it takes to get an operator on the phone.

Additionally, a chatbot can also reduce the time required for an issue to deal with an issue.

Helpshift, a chatbot developer, recently surveyed some consumers about customer service. From their survey, Helpshift discovered that 70% of those surveyed admitted that they would happily use chatbots for assistance.

There’s a good reason why.

Chatbots streamline the customer support process and make it easier for everyone involved: the consumers and the business. 

3. Time is of the essence. Take care of yours

Chatbots can help your business save time.

How? Well, think about it this way:

Thanks to the power of automated conversations, your sales reps no longer need to run around answering a tornado of inbound messages. Instead, they can focus their attention and energy on to other, less repetitive tasks.

For example, rather than sales reps answering questions non-stop, from 9 to 5, they can use some of their spare time to carry out social media listening.

You can save your business countless hours by automating responses with a chatbot.

4. Lead the way

When users open up your website’s homepage, they won’t always know where to find the info they want. On some occasions, they might not even know what exactly they’re searching for.

Perhaps, they bumped into your business by accident and, purely out of curiosity, chose to explore your website.

When a user is unsure of where to go, chatbots can chaperone them through your website. Through asking a series of relevant questions, chatbots can redirect users to the webpage where they can find the info they need.

The questions a chatbot might ask will vary depending on each business, but here are some general ones:

  • ‘What are your goals?’
  • ‘What industry are you in?’
  • ‘Where are you located?’
  • ‘What problem are you trying to solve?’

What types of chatbots are there?

There are two examples of chatbots you’ll find out there: simple chatbots and smart, advanced chatbots.

  • Simple chatbot – a simple chatbot will only work based on the pre-written keywords that it understands. We call these pre-written keywords ‘commands.’
  • If a user asks a question without using one of these commands, a simple chatbot will struggle to comprehend the message and, by default, will give a response along the lines of ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.’
Screenshot of a chatbot conversation
Credit: Mariya Yao
  • Smart chatbot – a smart chatbot, alternatively, will use artificial intelligence to carry out conversations with users. Rather than relying on prepared answers, a smart chatbot will respond to a user’s message with relevant keywords that are in context.

Where can I discover the best chatbots on the Internet?

There are various search engines where users can discover thousands of chatbots – search engines such as Chatbottle and Botlist, for example. These search engines help developers to keep users in the loop about the launch of their chatbots.

Homepage on the Botlist website, an app store for chatbots
Screenshot of the Botlist website

Additionally, some of these search engines also provide rankings for each chatbot. This feature allows you to find the best chatbots in various categories – whether it be a cryptocurrency, productivity, social interaction, travel, e-commerce, news, etc.

How can I build a chatbot of my own?

You may feel the urge to create your own chatbot. Below, you’ll find a couple of tips to help get you started. I’ve broken down the process into four stages:   

Girl holding the hand of a robot

The Four Stages

1. Define your objectives

What do you want your chatbot to do? Grab a pen and notebook, and jot down a little list of the functions you need your chatbot to perform.  

2. Choose your channel

Choose the channel where you will interact with your customers

As a general rule of thumb, the channel you choose should be one where your customers prefer to communicate. For example, some businesses communicate with their customers via chatbots for Facebook Messenger, Skype and even WhatsApp.

3. Choose the method for creating your chatbot

When creating a chatbot, you can make one of two decisions: 

  1. You can program a custom bot from scratch
  2. You can use a chatbot builder

Option 1 – you are better of creating a chatbot from scratch if you intend to show it to your customers/prospective clients.

Creating a chatbot from scratch will require you to handle complex code. So, if there’s not a programmer on your team, you may want to seek help from a software development agency.

In addition to the need for expertise, creating a chatbot from scratch may also require a heavy investment in finance and time.

However, there are some benefits to programming your chatbot by yourself. When you develop your chatbot from start to finish, you can make corrections easily and tailor it to your needs completely. Not to mention, creating your chatbot this way will give you better control over the data it receives.

Option 2 - want to create a chatbot quickly? Then a chatbot builder may be the way to go.

Chatbot building platforms, such as Chatfuel, Beep Boop and Botsify, can supply you with the integrations and necessary features you need to create a chatbot.

However, the catch with some chatbot building platforms is that you have to be dependent on the platform, and you are limited in the ways you can configure your chatbot.

4. Customise your chatbot

Last but not least, you must customise your chatbot before showing it to your customers and prospective clients.

The customisation stage involves you creating an algorithm for the actions of your chatbot. You will need to form a database of answers, that will determine how your chatbot responds to queries.

Before you hit the launch button, however, you’ll need to test that your chatbot works properly. If the answer is yes, then you’re good to go.

Final takeaway

Many businesses are only beginning to understand the power of chatbots and the benefits they can bring to their processes. Chatbots are still at an early stage of their evolution, and we have yet to see the full potential of chatbots.

AI bots can help your company take a great step into the future. Invest in a chatbot and optimise your business processes through the power of artificial intelligence.

Want to learn more about the tools you can use to rejuvenate your business processes? Feel free to get in touch with our team.

Aggee 2
Written by Aggee Digital Journalist