The use of chatbots is increasing in the online marketplace, and many people have mixed feelings about these artificial customer service agents. While some prefer to communicate with a real-live human for the most accurate help, there can be some benefit to adding these bots to your business website.

According to a Facebook survey, over 50% of users said they would rather message a business than call them on the phone, fill out a form on the website, and email the business. There are currently billions of worldwide users on Facebook—each with access to its Messenger platform. This ease of access to messaging apps and the constant improvement of AI systems have encouraged more and more companies to use chatbots to help solve simple customer issues.

But, just how do these bots work?

What Is a Chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that was designed to mimic a real live human conversation, usually through text or voice. Its goal is to understand user requests, provide an answer, or help them navigate to a solution. So, if you ask it a question, it should respond with a relevant and natural-sounding answer.

What is a chatbot?

There are a few different types of chatbots, each with different approaches to come up with a response, from pre-written scripts to natural language processing (NLP). And, there are a bunch of different software programs that your business can use, like Messenger for Facebook Business, Wechat, and Skype, just to name a few.

A preview of how chatbots work

In order for these bots to understand natural human language, they are programmed to break things down into simplistic parts and meanings. Then, they work to provide a response that makes sense. Bots may be able to identify parts of speech, recognize entities of a request, and define intent according to key phrases. They use this data to decide what response or solution to provide.

To get these bots built, developers work with companies to gather the most common search topics and client queries; then, they’ll compile the correct answers and integrate them into the bot’s programming. You can even add a little personality to the bot’s scripts to reflect your brand’s style.

Chatbots that are run by artificial intelligence can improve their interactions over time. So, the more interactions it has, the better the bot will become at fulfilling user requests. But, it takes massive amounts of data for the chatbots to constantly learn about the human language and the needs of their users.

Okay, but how can I actually use chatbots?

What are chatbots used for? The uses of chatbots are far and wide, depending on the industry you’re in and the type of tasks your users need help with. For most businesses, having chatbots live on a website helps reduce the need for live customer service agents. Chatbots can answer quick questions or handle easy processes without needing to connect the user with someone at a call center.

Chatbots can be programmed to:

  • Answer frequently asked questions
  • Give calls to action (like sign up for our newsletter)
  • Help you collect lead information like phone numbers
  • Check the status of an order
  • Guide customers through online shopping
  • Schedule bookings
  • Receive payments

But, before you start worrying that chatbots will take all the customer service jobs, there will always be a need for real humans. Often, some requests can become too complicated for a bot. In this case, the bot will reroute the conversation to an available live customer service rep.

Comparing the Different Types of Chatbot Technology

There are a few different types of chatbots, each with various complexities and capabilities for businesses to take advantage of.

Rule-based, scripted, or quick-reply chatbots

No matter what you call them, these are the simplest of chatbots. They will only interact through predefined questions and provide responses based on pre-written scripts that the developer creates. 

Users will choose from set responses like “Yes” or “No,” or request simple tasks like looking up information. This is a great option to help you qualify your leads. For example, a moving company’s bot could ask a user, “How soon are you looking to move?” with options: 

  1. Immediately 
  2. Within 6 months
  3. Not sure yet

Then, that user can be placed into a bucket depending on how soon they are likely to convert.

Keyword recognition chatbots

Keyword recognition-based bots are a little more complex than scripted bots. These programs can “listen” to certain keywords or phrases that provide a clue about what the user is looking for. For instance, these bots can understand the sentence, “I cannot find my order tracking number” by picking out words like “cannot find” and “tracking” to understand that the user needs help with order shipment information.

Like any bot, this program can sometimes trip up and misunderstand intent if it’s faced with complicated phrases or repetition. With this type of chatbot, it’s important to have a backup plan for your users, so they can be connected to live help if necessary.

Artificial intelligence chatbots

Contextual chatbots, or those that use artificial intelligence, are more complex and data-centric than the other types. How do chatbots use AI? These special chatbots are programmed with natural language processing (NLP) to understand and communicate with users. 

They’re intellectually independent, which means these bots use machine learning to uncover more about the human language with each interaction. They can remember user interactions, then use that memory to actually get better at answering the user’s questions.

These programs use a combination of natural language understanding (the ability to understand humans) and natural language generation (turning data into understandable text) to communicate. They are programmed to understand the structure of sentences, as well as identify the intent and entities of each user request.

The intent is the purpose of the search, or the action a user is looking for. The entity is a detail that qualifies the answer. For example, if a user types in, “What will the weather in Miami be this weekend?”, the intent is to find the weather, and the entity is “Miami” (a location) and “this weekend” (a date).

Benefits of Chatbots and the Future of Marketing

Many consumers expect companies to be available 24/7 to answer their questions and help solve problems. Chatbots help provide that constant availability and reduce customer wait time. They can cut the time that real employees spend answering the same basic questions. And as these bots continue to improve, it’ll become more and more common for businesses to allow them to do the grunt work.

Chatbots can also help reduce the stress that some people feel when interacting with customer service reps or sales agents. It eliminates the need for human interaction if you only have a simple question. (Hooray for the introverts!)

Bots can also create a better user experience. They can identify and qualify leads, and improve how users are redirected. If customers actually do need to interact with a human, the bot can use the data it collected to determine which department a user should speak to.

Chatbots are improving data collection for companies, providing deeper customer insights to influence marketing tactics and future product endeavors. With these bots, you can collect useful data about your target audience, like discovering where there are problems on your site or which product pages are the most popular. You can even use A/B testing to determine which communication styles are more successful for your audience.

No matter your industry, chatbots can provide some ease when it comes to collecting leads and helping solve simple user requests. Consider incorporating one into your site and see what you can learn from your audience.

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