Whether you’re checking out a website or logging into your bank, chatbots are often clamoring for your attention in the corner of your screen, promising help and assistance.
A chatbot is a piece of software that can hold conversations with humans then perform an action based on that dialogue, be it booking a cab or sharing a takeout menu.
Their presence is only predicted to grow, with saying that 25% of customer service operations will use chatbots or virtual customer assistants by 2020.
Businesses using chatbots report increased customer satisfaction – but isn’t a good customer experience one with a personable, well-trained human involved?
A found the most common blocker to using chatbots is that 43% would rather deal with a real person, while 30% are worried about bots making mistakes. The same sentiment is echoed in a of US internet users where the top two concerns about chatbots are being kept from dealing with humans (51%), followed by too many unhelpful responses (48%).
I spoke to two consumer business entrepreneurs that use chatbots–one developed in-house, the other using a chatbot builder–to get their insights.
Shaz Khan, co-owner of two restaurants, , in Minneapolis, built his own chatbot for handling customer queries on social media.
Chatbots are risky. There’s a really fine line between giving people a customer-oriented experience and over automating to the point of annoyance. I took a poll of our employees to see what kinds of things we get asked the most and monitored our social media to see what people were talking about. Based on the results, I was able to choose which pieces of information could be 100% automated.”
Khan makes sure customers can always hit a key to message a real person and maintains in-store phones and cell phones so when people need human interaction, they can get it. He also continually improves his chatbots.
He told me:
I have people message our chatbot on Facebook and test every scenario and permutation of the chatbot workflow. For the complex language analysis, I just try things out in my free time to see how it’s working. If a chat stalls with a customer or it doesn’t work properly, I get flagged and can see every message we get so I can attend to them, and then fix the error quickly.”
At the most basic level, chatbots are effectively just query-based search tools – programs that are scripted to respond to certain key phrases with preset dialogue. While the vast majority of chatbots will not be passing the Turing test any time soon, Khan sees a combination of human input and machine as the best way to make them work for businesses.
Khan admits there were teething problems. He recalled:
One of the earliest mistakes we made was implementing linguistic analysis on keywords from our menu. I was trying to discern if the user was making a complaint, requesting something, or just wanting to see a menu item. It kept responding to any inquiry which contained the word ‘pizza’ with: ‘We have the biggest slices in town! How can we help you?’ This was obviously frustrating, but I jumped in the conversation and the customer got a bit of a laugh out of it.
The moral is always be ready for a user to break your automation and be on hand to respond quickly. Not everything will work the first time, but as long as you create an atmosphere of excellence with your customers, and don’t leave them hanging, they’ll always understand.“
The restaurants have the benefit of Khan’s background in engineering and computing. Many small businesses don’t have the internal expertise to create their own tools and be self-sufficient in improving them.
Husband and wife team Kevin and Grace Reynolds are co-owners of , which employs 17 people and services hundreds of properties in Walla Walla in Washington. They have also created an online community of 16,000 professional cleaners. Both the business and the Facebook group are served by ‘Shirley’, their Facebook Messenger chatbot.
Kevin Reynolds said:
Many of our customers preferred to message us through Facebook over telephone and email so we knew it would be important for our business to adopt early here. I strongly believe chatbots are the next big thing and those who invest in them early will win. Fortunately, there are good chatbot programs out there.”
The Reynolds used ManyChat to build their Facebook bot which schedules services, answers questions, provides cleaning tips, helps customers purchase gift cards and even closes deals.
Kevin Reynolds said: “The best part is we’re learning more about our customers based on the conversations they’re having with our bots and we’re able to tailor information and content specific to our subscribers.”
While he is clearly a chatbot convert, he knows they are not without their issues, adding:
People know they’re chatting to a bot so you shouldn’t try tricking them into thinking they’re speaking with a human. If people feel deceived by their first actions with a company, it damages reputations and relationships.
I suggest making it known that a bot is on duty so people know the score right off the bat. We try to add some character by using GIFs, emojis and a bit of humor. Our chatbot Shirley comes with a GIF of Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons.”