The bots have arrived, and it looks like they may be here to stay.
Chatbots started popping up on websites around 2016 as a way to help automate customer service. Fast forward to today, and the global market for chatbots is projected to grow to $9.4 billion by 2024, up from $2.6 billion in 2019. A recent post from Userlike sums up this (perhaps surprising) enthusiasm: “Chatbots today are what mobile apps were in 2012. Every business wants one.”
When it comes to brand and consumer interactions, we’re entering a new world — one with chatbots on the front line. But before you build a chatbot just because everyone is doing it, there’s a lot to consider.
To Bot or Not to Bot?
First, chatbots aren’t every customer’s first choice. Consider a CGS survey that found that 86% of U.S. consumers making customer service inquiries through text-based messaging services preferred conversing with a human over an AI-based system. Moreover, in that same survey, 71% of consumers would actually be less likely to interact with a brand they knew didn’t make human agents available. So it’s a bit ironic that the one thing chatbots are meant to improve — the customer service experience — can actually cause people to churn.
So, what’s the primary irritant for consumers when it comes to chatbots? Some 60% of respondents cite having to repeat information and provide context to a human agent in the event of escalation, according to an independent survey conducted by Chatbots.org. The next biggest issue (as reported by 32% of respondents) is that chatbots too often get “stuck” and don’t know what to do next.
But despite these statistics, people are warm to automated solutions — or at least used to them. Userlike, which provides live chat software for humans, but not chatbots, reports that 80% of survey respondents had already interacted with chatbots, and while most indicated they’d prefer to speak to a human agent if given the choice, some 60% were willing to engage with chatbots again. Meanwhile, the CGS survey shows that consumers prefer a hybrid AI/human approach to customer service, suggesting that shoppers trust chatbots to handle basic requests such as product specifications, order status, and shipping policies, but for more complex problems, there is still value in the human touch.
One thing going for chatbots: response time. Salesforce notes that chatbots can help support triaging issues, and chatbots may reduce customer response time by up to 30% on average. People also like that chatbots never sleep, which is important since 51% of consumers expect businesses to be available 24/7.
More Bang for Your Bot
If your brand already uses them — or is considering using them — here are three best practices to help you make sure your chatbots create a great consumer experience rather than turn customers off.
1) Humanize your chatbot
The marketing director of IFS, a field service management company, highlights a PwC survey showing that nearly 60% of consumers believe companies have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. “Most customers hate AI,” she writes, “because organizations are using it to replace the human touch instead of augmenting it.”
The best way to humanize your chatbot? Employ an advanced conversational AI system, one that relies on natural language processing (NLP). The deep learning abilities of NLP enable machines to recognize speech patterns and interpret imprecise human language as it is spoken, rather than relying on specific, programming-language keywords. Even better, NLP operates as a two-way street, allowing a chatbot to deliver more personable, less mechanical-sounding responses — i.e., more human responses.
The result is a more seamless interaction between consumers and chatbots, leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. (In fact, it’s a good idea to humanize your brand as a whole.)
2) Make your chatbots as good as your search bar
Thanks to those ever-evolving natural language capabilities, chatbots are also better able to understand longer, more complex user questions like, “Which of your products are completely gluten-free?” What you might not know is that these requests mirror what customers are likely to ask via the search function on your website. So the question is: Are both your chatbot and your site search answers-ready? Hint: the answer should be “yes.”
As you already read, statistics show that not every customer is going to want to use your chatbot. But every customer is going to have questions — which means they are going to search. So if you’re investing in chatbots, you should be investing in great site search, too. Not to mention, delivering answers to natural language searches really pays off: the 15% of customers who use site search account for 45% of ecommerce revenue, making them your most valuable customers.
3) Give your bot a break
Understanding the types of questions consumers are asking also enables companies to cut the costs required to maintain customer-call support centers, live chat, and even — yes — chatbots. How? By beefing up the quality of easily-discoverable self-help offerings. Not to be a broken record, but this means you need a great search experience on your website so customers can navigate that content and find answers easily (and on any device).
Need incentive? Forrester warns that nearly 70% of customers opt not to return to a website that provided a poor search experience. They also remind us that enriching site search functionality helps customers meet their intended goals. As an example, wouldn’t it be helpful to know if customers are asking about “best” vs. “cheapest” products?
No Bots About It
So if a chatbot is in your future — or if it’s a key part of your present — be sure it’s set up for success. A great customer experience begins with your brand’s ability to quickly and easily deliver answers whenever — and however — people ask questions. The combination of a smart chatbot, exceptional site-search, and self-help options means your customers will thank you — hopefully in the form of increased sales, loyalty, and even advocacy.