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I very rarely make phone calls these days. If I want to talk to a friend or arrange to meet up with them, I send a message via a platform such as WhatsApp or Facebook messenger. And I’m not alone. The use of messenger apps continues to rise at a rapid rate. Chat is now a more popular medium than social media, ever since usage of messenger apps took over social media in 2015.

So, if we choose to have everyday conversations with our friends and family over messenger, why would you, as a business, still require your customers to call you up, send an email, or post on social media to get in touch? Your audience is spending a lot of their time on messenger apps, so that’s where you should be too.

Hiring a team of people to constantly be active and responsive on each popular messenger app is unrealistic, and downright expensive. This is where chatbots come in.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots are basically tools for carrying out automated conversations. Using text or voice recognition, chatbots can recognize and respond to commands and questions from real people. They allow your brand to have conversations with your customers even when no one is available.

Chatbots are a form of artificial intelligence. Before you run and hide at the sight of this phrase, don’t panic! You don’t need a master’s degree in computer science to start using chatbots. They’re also not going to try to take over your company (or the world) once you set them up.

How chatbots work

Chatbots function by either following a set of rules laid out by the programmer, or by using machine learning. The second option is the more complex and sophisticated solution because it allows the bot to continuously develop its understanding of human language by learning from the commands given to it.

Rules-based chatbots only understand a limited number of words and phrases. They will, therefore, struggle to adapt to any departure from the script they have been given. For example, if a weather app is taught rules allowing it to give the weather forecast when asked, it might get confused by a question like “Will I need sunglasses tomorrow?”

A machine learning chatbot has a better chance of understanding the context of this question and relating it to the weather forecast. Machine learning also allows chatbots to communicate in a more natural language. The most sophisticated chatbots might even trick you into thinking you’re talking to a real person.

What can you use chatbots for?

What does all this mean for your business? There are a number of ways chatbots can help you in your marketing and business operations. Here are a few ideas of how to use chatbots:

  • Selling products – Your customers could discover, compare, and buy products from you by talking to a chatbot. Rather than having to navigate your website and do their own research, they can enter a simple question into a chat app. Then, a bot can do all the work for them. This will be similar to talking to a sales rep in store and receiving personalized recommendations and support.
  • Taking payments – Chatbots also have the capability to accept payments. This allows customers to complete transactions within the same conversation that they discovered the product. Giving customers more payment options makes it easier for them to buy from you, resulting in more completed transactions.
  • Upselling and cross-selling – Chatbots can also help to drive up average order prices by cross-selling and upselling to customers within this conversation. If a customer wants to order a PS4, the chatbot can provide what they are looking for and also point to a special games bundle that's being offered.
  • Customer service – The fast response of chatbots make them ideal for handling customer queries and complaints. If someone has a problem, they will get more frustrated if they have to wait for it to be resolved. With chatbots on your website or another platform, customers can have their questions answered quickly and efficiently. Happy customers are loyal customers!
  • Collect data – Chatbots are also a great way to learn more about your customers by collecting insights into their behaviors, preferences, and opinions. This helps you market to and communicate with your customers in a more personalized way, making you more effective at selling to them.