Tag: chat bot

28 Nov 2017

It’s Officially the Holidays! Are You Ready to Support the Retail Madness?

On Black Friday alone, shoppers spent about $5 billion online, and these numbers skyrocketed on Cyber Monday, with consumers spending about $6.6 billion online. The holidays are in full swing, meaning crazy deals and even crazier shopper expectations — and retailers must ensure their websites are equipped with the right technologies and resources to handle the chaos now and throughout the holiday season.

Here are the three biggest customer experience issues retailers might run into this December — and tips for how they can use artificial intelligence technologies to get ahead of these challenges to ensure they’re spreading holiday cheer, not leaving their customers with a grinch-like experience.

Don’t leave customers in the cold — Providing consistent support across every touchpoint

Today’s shoppers are engaging with retailers across a variety of touchpoints — from browsing a mobile app to seeing the newest products on Instagram to actually trying out items in-store. Therefore, brands must ensure they’re implementing the right tools that make support accessible and consistent across every touchpoint.

Take, for example, a shopper who completed a purchase through a retailer’s mobile application. A couple of days later, she might come across a Facebook post displaying the product she bought, prompting her to go looking for an update on the status of her order — and forcing her to rummage through email or log back into her account on the mobile app.  AI-driven chatbots on the Facebook platform can instead, access the customer history and provide the most up-to-date alert on the shipment and expected arrival date. This removes the need to flip between different channels, therefore mitigating customer frustration and making for a happy holiday shopping experience.

Don’t let the chaos take control — Ensuring support processes are efficient

One of the biggest issues customers face during the holidays is difficulty in getting answers to questions. Whether they want more information about a specific product or upcoming promotion, finding the answers to these simple, yet important questions can be a frustrating task. And waiting on hold for a representative can make customers feel like their issues don’t matter to a brand.

Chatbot technology solves this major issue, especially during the holidays where retailers face a high volume of questions from shoppers. With a knowledge base of information on retailer policies, products and promotions, as well as natural language processing capabilities that help them understand the context of almost any customer situation, bots create a strong channel for customers to self-serve and find fast answers to their quick questions.

Don’t forget to create a connection — Personalization is the best present

There’s nothing worse than feeling unappreciated. The holiday season is all about being grateful and spreading cheer. This is why it’s important that retailers create connections with the shoppers, who are the lifeblood of their business.

Personalization is a term that is often thrown around in the retail space today, but it’s so much more than just offering recommendations on products to buy. To create a truly tailored shopping experience, retailers must ensure they have the right technologies in place to really get to know each customer and their preferences. Using this detailed information will allow them to provide a tailored engagement every time they come to a brand’s website or connect with one of their CX team members. Take for example, a customer who always pays extra for expedited shipping on their orders. Should something go wrong with a specific package and they speak with a customer service representative, the agent can understand this preference (and the customer’s loyalty to the brand) and improve the situation by offering free expedited shipping on their next five orders.

This holiday season, retailers won’t wow customers by just providing killer deals and discounts — the key to success — even beyond the holidays — will be in creating a strong customer experience by recognizing shopper needs and providing the right tools to keep shoppers happy and loyal.

15 Nov 2017

Ditching the Script: Why CX teams need to personalize interactions

Consumers in 2017 have heightened standards for customer service and support.  When they log onto a brand’s website — especially if they regularly do business with that company — they expect the experience to be personal to them.  They expect their interests to be known, their needs anticipated and that the shopping experience will be as intuitive as possible.  During a time where every advertisement we see on social media and every recommended product on Amazon is tailored to our individual interests, customer support interactions must follow suit.

A recent survey found that shoppers appreciate agents who empathize, act quickly, and drop the script.  Meaning they want to talk to someone who is really listening to them and understands what they are trying to accomplish.  Not one who is simply following an “if this, then that” flow-chart.  The challenge for customer service agents is how to take  the time to provide personalized and empathetic support, while still ensuring customer interactions are fast and efficient. To strike this balance, artificial intelligence is helping brands align their CX teams to meet these new standards for customer support, both as external tools and internal resources.

External chatbots understand each shopper’s situation and provide contextual answers, fast

Chatbots are no longer just a buzzword — they are a viable customer service channel that can provide accurate and efficient support.  The technology can be implemented across critical touchpoints — from a website to a mobile app and even on a Facebook page — to ensure customer can get consistent support wherever, whenever.

The reason chatbots are so game-changing is the innovative technologies embedded within them. Specifically, with AI and natural-language processing capabilities these tools have the unique ability to go beyond a scripted, FAQ-like interaction, and actually understand the context of shoppers’ situations and provide relevant, accurate and tailored answers.

Internal AI tools help live reps provide personalized and consistent support

The same virtual assistant tools that brands use to resolve customer problems can also be implemented internally as a resource for live customer service reps. With vast knowledge management systems and the ability to dig into individual customer’s history (previous interactions, purchases, returns, etc.) customer service agents can leverage AI to ensure they have all the insights needed to effectively solve customer problems. Not only does this allow them to tailor the support experience by having the customer’s full history at their fingertips, but it also mitigates frustration by not forcing the customer to repeat information that they’ve shared via other channels.

Customer service interactions in our hyper-digital world need to be personalized — and brands that still train their technology tools and representatives to follow scripted conversations are destined for failure. With the growth of AI-driven virtual assistants, brands can provide highly-tailored engagements that keep customers satisfied and shopping.

30 Nov 2016

The Definitive Guide to Chat Bot Strategy

If you’ve spent any time on the web reading the latest insights on customer service and marketing, you’ve likely heard a lot of chatter about chat bots. They’re the latest and greatest thing in the world of marketing and customer support automation, and they’re providing a tremendous opportunity for companies to better engage and support both prospects and customers throughout the buying journey and post-purchase.

If you realize the value chat bots could offer your business but aren’t sure how to go about developing a strategy, this guide is for you. We’ve outlined how to sift through the features and determine the specific functionality you really need, how to analyze costs and returns, determining the best platform for implementation, and more to guide you through the process of refining your bot strategy and executing on it, and ensuring that your initiative is producing results.

Chat Bots

Chat bots, for those of you who have heard the term and have a general idea of what it means but don’t yet have an in-depth understanding, can be described as a mini-app or a program that runs within another messaging system used by a company to interact with customers on the web. Chat bots can be used with large-scale messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or Slack as well as apps (either proprietary or third-party) integrated into a company’s website.

Chat bots, often referred to simply as “bots,” are designed to mimic interaction with an actual human – without, of course, an actual human participating in the interaction from the other side. In other words, a customer or prospect may ask a question about a product via the company’s built-in chat function on its website or through third-party platforms like Facebook and Slack, where consumers are increasingly engaging brands.

Instead of having real, live humans manning the messaging systems to respond to these inquiries, some of this communication can be automated with chat bots – particularly when a chat bot uses advanced functionality such as contextual cues and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to create a more human-like response that’s in line with the customer’s query. More on those features later.

Chat bots, in their most basic form, aren’t really new in terms of technology, but chat bots are suddenly becoming massively popular thanks to massive adoption of messaging services like Facebook Messenger, and brands aren’t wasting the opportunity to get in on the action. In fact, Facebook reports that more than 10,000 developers are already building bots on its platform alone.

Instant messaging services

Screenshot via UptoDown.com

Now that we’ve covered the basics of chat bots, let’s talk about why your company needs a chat bot strategy and how to go about formulating one.

Why You Need a Chat Bot Strategy

Aside from chat bots being all the rage, they’re incredibly useful tools for businesses that need to keep pace with the latest advancements in customer support. Most consumers now expect that companies have a multitude of contact methods, allowing them to engage in any way they choose, ranging from Facebook to Twitter, email, telephone, self-help knowledge bases, and instant messaging or chat.

With Facebook Messenger reaching 800 million users in January 2016, growing to one billion monthly active users as of July 2016, the opportunity is ripe for brands to tap into the massive reach of Messenger and other growing platforms like Slack to cultivate customer relationships. Engaging these millions of users requires more than a standard information blast; today’s consumers demand personalized attention.


Image via Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg)

Even back in 2012, it was clear that personalization was a worthy investment: MarketingSherpa reports that Edmunds.com achieved an 18 percent lift in conversions by providing personalized, targeted marketing, and Data Mentors reports that 40 percent of shoppers in one survey say they spend more with retailers who personalize their experience across channels. This benefit isn’t news, but achieving real personalization across increasingly diverse platforms is no simple feat without automation.

Of course, the manpower required to effectively manage and maintain these various communication systems is substantial, and it often doesn’t make sense for companies to invest the overhead required for such an all-encompassing initiative. What’s more, failing to get it right has detrimental effects on the customer experience. Sprinklr points out several compelling statistics that illustrate just how damaging ineffective customer support processes are:

  • 74% of consumers are frustrated when they have to contact companies multiple times for the same reason.
  • 66% are frustrated by having to repeat the same information to several employees or through multiple channels.
  • 64% are annoyed by employees or self-help services that fail to answer their questions.

From the evolution that created the demand for cross-channel communications – the rise of digital media and mobile tech, such as social media and messaging services – emerges the technology that enables businesses to meet those demands with the same (or better) efficiency they require to keep up with the many customer touch points that exist today.

But beyond streamlining customer service functions, chat bots can also boost sales, enabling customers to place orders via messaging systems much in the same way they’d tell an employee in a brick-and-mortar location what they’re looking for. So, not only do chat bots facilitate customer service, but they also create revenue opportunities.

In fact, there are dozens of potential use cases for chat bots limited only by a company’s ability to innovate – but with myriad possibilities, it’s easy to get lost in the trees and fail to fine-tune your mission. The result can be a messy outcome with bots that your customers find more cumbersome – or even annoying – than useful. And that’s precisely why you need a clearly defined chat bot strategy that determines exactly what features and functionality your bots require to meet your specified business objectives.

Key Considerations in Developing Your Chat Bot Strategy: What Functionality Do You Need?

The functionality you need from your chat bot largely hinges on the type of business you operate, or in some cases, the specific department the bot will serve. A retailer, for example, will likely benefit substantially from a bot designed to help customers purchase products, while a software company may benefit from a bot facilitating customer support services. Depending on your goals, you might want a chat bot capable of:

  • Scheduling appointments or meetings
  • Placing orders and recommending products
  • Responding to customer inquiries about orders or shipments
  • Responding to frequently asked questions
  • Providing information and updates about service outages
  • Issuing notifications on news, weather alerts, company news, or other important information

Businesses developing a chat bot strategy should ask several key questions including:

  • Are you aiming to facilitate in-house communication or customer-facing interactions?
  • How will a chat bot impact the customer interaction?
  • How will it influence the overall customer experience?
  • What functions will it serve?
  • What existing processes can be replaced or streamlined (without negative impact on customer interactions or experience)?
  • What existing processes can be replaced?
  • What resources will a chat bot require? Where will it get information? What other services and data does it need to interact with in order to ensure seamless access to the up-to-date information for users?

The answers to these questions will help you determine what functionality your chat bot requires to meet business goals. For instance, if your chat bot strategy involves a bot answering customer questions, it will require access to information databases such as your existing knowledge base, help center, or FAQ.

Examining Usability and Customer-Facing vs. In-House Objectives

Depending on whether your chat bot is in-house – serving your team – or customer-facing, you might also want it to have functionality such as the ability to retrieve content and media from the internet. HelloSign’s Nicholas Whittier explains, “If you’re going to have a chat bot around, your co-workers should probably be able to use it to retrieve memes, gifs, images, or whatever from the internet. It’s only fair, and it often sparks interesting discussion.” He suggests having your team communicate only in images for a day – which, while it may be a light-hearted approach, has merit in illustrating the many ways chat bots can transform communication between co-workers as well as between brands and consumers.

Additionally, a bot can perform valuable tasks that streamline processes for your team, such as administrative tasks (scheduling meetings, ordering lunch) or even initiating its own updates. Whittier’s rule of thumb is: “Anything that happens 3 or more times fits my requirements for a thing the chat bot should do (scheduling these as a priority is more complicated, of course).”

As Martin Bryant points out in an article for The Next Web, the key factor in the usefulness of any chat bot is usability. He writes about TARA, a chat bot designed to walk users through the process of finding a qualified contractor for freelance work and connects them with an actual freelancer at the end of the discussion. “That’s the type of case where chat bots and conversational UIs can really shine – when they make life easier for a user by making something easier and more human,” Bryant says. “Otherwise they’re just a chore to use. In most cases you’ll be able to get just as much done, and quicker, by tapping a few buttons on your phone.” So, before you delve too deep into your strategy, you must first pinpoint a use case that will realistically benefit your customers or users but also makes sense for your business objectives.

chat bot

A chat bot doesn’t have to run entirely on artificial intelligence, either. A creation from the team behind the the Y-Combinator alumni Gradberry, TARA consists of approximately 55 percent automation and 45 percent actual human assistance, the company’s Co-founder and CEO, Iba Masood tells Bryant. Thus, some level of human engagement is an important consideration when developing a chat bot strategy and, sometimes, a critical factor in the utility of a bot. While today’s consumers demand instantaneous attention, adequate resolutions to their issues, and thorough responses to questions, they may also balk at being tended to by a non-human. In some cases, a bit of human touch makes all the difference.

With wide-open opportunities to innovate with chat bots, it’s critical for any company to carefully evaluate potential use cases and determine precisely where chat bots fit into the business and where they hold the most promise for streamlining processes.

Evaluating Costs and Returns

Chat bots vary widely in terms of costs, depending on the platform you use to build your bot, the amount of ongoing support you may need, and the number of messenger services where the bot is deployed. Pricing may also be based on the number of interactions. Chat bot technology has been around for decades, though the early iterations were quite robotic and lacked the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities brands take advantage of today.

Still, because the core technology is well-established, it’s already possible for individuals to create their own personal chat bots serving as everything from a personal assistant to a financial data analyst/advisor like Digit, or even a friendly companion, starting at around $25 monthly. These bots, of course, are far more basic than the advanced, intelligent bots required to power customer support chat for a large enterprise.

Like any business investment, weighing the costs against the benefits and possible returns will drive the smartest decision-making. In the recruitment field, for example, bots have been used for over a decade, offering customized responses to inquiries based on context. While a chat bot capable of providing contextual responses in multiple languages, 24/7, communicating with applicants on any device, recruitment firms realize a number of valuable benefits in return. Most importantly, chat bots reduce the need to have recruiting agents man the messaging system 24/7 – plus they often provide faster and more accurate responses, reducing the time it takes for applicants to make decisions.

Costs are also dependent on the number of features bundled in the overall package, which may include:

  • Hosting
  • Conversation logs – complete history of actual conversations
  • Customizable appearance/avatars – customizing the look and feel of the chat interface itself as well as the avatar or bot identity
  • Detailed reports and analytics – insights on outcomes from conversations, conversions, and other data
  • Multiple platform availability – ability to run chat bots on Facebook messenger, Slack, your website, and other platforms
  • Knowledge Management System (KMS) – enabling team members to manage bots
  • Missing knowledge reports or feedback – letting you know when your bot is unable to answer questions or provide accurate responses due to lack of accessible knowledge
  • Database access – ability to instantly access and retrieve real-time data on shipping, product availability, and other evolving knowledge
  • Other custom requirements

It’s not the development of the bot itself that dictates the true cost – the basic code and user interface for a basic bot is readily available. It’s the other specifications that increase the cost of implementation and ongoing management. It’s also these factors, though, that give your bot real usefulness like conducting transactions, carrying out actions, and streamlining workflows.

In the simplest terms, think of advanced bots as capable in some way of conducting two-way interactions rather than a one-way information feed. This is the functionality that will offer a real return on investment. To project potential ROI, tie your business objectives to the necessary functionality to estimate the cost of implementation and ongoing management. Tie those same business objectives to the benefits or KPIs you’re aiming for, such as a reduction in customer support staff or increased sales. Many businesses find that by narrowing chat bot functionality to their true business requirements, it’s possible to realize substantial ROI from chat bot implementation.

How to Choose a Chat Bot Platform: Evaluating Tools, Messaging Services, and Other Bot Essentials

Like cost, the right chat bot platform hinges on your business requirements. You’ll need a platform capable of delivering on your needs and able scale with your business as well. There are multiple platforms for developers to build their own bots, like Wit.ai, Motion.ai, or Chatfuel, as well as platforms offering chat bot integration as a component of self-service software or customer support solutions. A few other tools for building chat bots include:

Some bot-building tools are designed to create platform-specific bots. Facebook Messenger Platform, obviously, is meant to aid developers in creating bots for Facebook Messenger, which many companies are already utilizing. Others are aimed at building bots for Slack or other services like Telegram. Developers who want to take the from-scratch approach can turn to open-source resources like Pandorabot’s Rosie, an Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) framework. Some companies will have more confidence in a bot developed in-house, while others will turn to established platforms for ease of implementation.

If you require a bot to run solely on Facebook Messenger, for instance, one platform may meet your needs today – but what happens when your customers want to interact with your business on Slack? While it’s fine to work with a platform that doesn’t yet have all the capabilities you might require in the future, you should examine the platform’s history, growth patterns, and pace of adoption in terms of keeping up with the latest and emerging trends in the space. Your choice of messaging platform can make all the difference in reach and engagement, which are key to producing ROI.

Security, of course, is always a top concern for companies implementing new technology, particularly when that technology is meant to function on third-party platforms where you don’t always have the same level of control over your data. But chat bots pose a unique challenge when it comes to security, as evidenced by the now-infamous Microsoft chat bot snafu. While that particular incident was influenced by a third-party outsider, the fear exists that bots could eventually become so intelligent that they could go rogue – even deactivating their own kill switches (cue creepy futuristic robot film). This is a potential concern Google is tackling, with research in the works to develop a panic button that capable of killing a rogue AI agent.

While it’s pretty unlikely that your chat bot will literally develop a mind of its own and go rogue on you today, it’s a viable concern for the future and one that should make any business carefully evaluate potential platform partners. Choose a platform that’s up-to-speed on security issues and has systems and procedures in place to mitigate any potential risks.

When you carefully devise a chat bot strategy based on a thorough evaluation of your business requirements and map those needs to chat bot functionality and the right KPIs that indicate whether your bot is streamlining the proper target processes, you can reap the benefits of ROI driven by innovation while meeting your customers where they want to engage with you: in the messaging services they’re using every day.

Can’t get enough bots? Check out these other valuable resources for more insights on AI, conversational agents, and chat bots: