Artificial intelligence has come a long way in the past couple of years — and its practical applications are staggering. But to some small business owners, A.I. may still be just a concept out of sci-fi that conjures up terrifying images of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator.”
Thanks to the surging popularity of chatbots, the idea is starting to seem a little less scary.
Chatbots have been around for decades, but companies are only now beginning to exploit the technology from a business point-of-view. Just as a robot may simulate all or part of the actions o a human being, a chatbot is essentially a bit of interface software designed to simulate human conversation. Thanks to a few clever coding tricks, chatbots are able to pick up on linguistic ques in the responses from users and begin to learn.
The more a chatbot communicates with a particular user, the more it is able to pick up on language patterns, topics of interest and more in order to respond accordingly.
What is a Chatbot and How They Work?
Upon first glance, it may seem like chatbots are just a silly way for users to fritter away an afternoon engaged in a fake conversation. But the truth is, they can actually be incredibly useful in streamlining various tasks.
The better chatbots are plugged into a number of data resources via pre-programmed protocols. This means they are able to deliver information or services on demand — like breaking news stories, cinema times or other pertinent information based on a users preferences. Because chatbots are designed to absorb user information and preferences, they remember things. This means if you ask a chatbot what the weather is going to be like on Sunday afternoon, the program will already know your precise location and the level of detail you’re looking for.
More complex chatbots do not only draw upon multiple data sources in order to answer queries, but they can also aggregate multiple apps in order to perform relatively complicated tasks. A prime example is Assist’s local services chatbot. It leverages the combined power of completely different apps like Uber, OLSET and Eat24. which means you can order a taxi, make dinner reservations and book a hotel room all by sending a few lines of text to Assist via Facebook Messenger.
That makes life simple for users, and it also automatically provides business owners with plenty of new sales leads.
How Can I Use a Chatbot for My Business?
Although some of the more high-tech chatbots are capable of providing some relatively high-level service, chatbots definitely are not for everyone. By and large, chatbots are going to be most useful for retailers or service providers dealing with regular and frequent orders. That might include small media outlets, restaurants, information hubs or digital retailers.
One of the reasons that chatbots can be so instrumental for smaller businesses is because they can vastly reduce the amount of time staff members must spend answering frequently asked questions that could be delaying a purchasing decision online. Bearing that in mind, small businesses operating out of virtually any industry could benefit from investing in a simple chatbot that is programmed to relay information from various FAQ or blog pages.
Not only do basic functions like this free up your time, but they also help to forge a sense of brand loyalty — so long as everything is working properly.
How Do I Create a Chatbot?
If you’re keen to explore how you might be able to deploy a basic chatbot on your company website, there are a few resources worth checking out.
If you already know a little bit about coding and would like to try to create your own chatbot, The Pandorabots Playground is a free and user-friendly development area designed to help businesses create chatbots with loads of different features.
That being said, the team at Pandorabots also works with companies in order to produce chatbots based on their specific requirements. Other chatbot services like nanorep work with businesses to produce relatively simple — but, according to the company, effective A.I. solutions.
Just remember: the key to using chatbots effectively is to make sure they enhance your customer’s experience. So don’t hop on the bandwagon and invest in a chatbot just because you want your business to look modern or trendy.
So if you’re truly interested in deploying a chatbot and think it could be a smart move for your company, sit down and have a long, hard think about why your customers would benefit. Then come up with a list of possible functions or key information the chatbot would need to provide, and always do your research.
Chatbot Photo via Shutterstock