Have you thought about including a chatbot on your business website?  Do you even know exactly what a chatbot is, or what it does?

If you hadn’t considered how useful a chatbot can be, or if you’ve been vaguely thinking that a chatbot might be a good idea for your business, then we’re here to tell you everything that you need to know about this useful piece of technology, so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not to go down the chatbot route.

What is a chatbot?

Chatbots come in all sorts of formats, but at their most basic level, they provide website visitors with instant responses to their enquiries and questions.  In many cases, it won’t be hard to spot that you’re communicating with a technological device, but as AI techniques become increasingly sophisticated, it’s now possible to have a fairly lengthy online ‘chat’ with a chatbot, without ever realising that you’re not actually communicating with another living person.

Why is there a need for chatbots?

Unlike a bricks and mortar shop or office, the internet is always open and available for business. But paying employees to work through the night to answer incoming queries simply isn’t practical – or affordable – in the majority of cases.

But is there actually a need to answer questions about your products or services in the small hours?

Does it really make that much difference if you respond to a query a few hours after it was made?

According to a report by the Harvard Business Review, the answer to both of these question is a resounding ‘Yes!’  The report clearly showed that businesses that responded to their potential customers’ queries within an hour, were almost seven times more likely to close a sale than those that took longer than that.  Waiting for 24 hours or more to respond led to a drop of more than 60x, proving unequivocally that response times matter.

And that piece of research was conducted as far back as 2011, since when attention spans and patience have shrunk significantly, thanks to the expectation of instant gratification that the internet has created.  So  it’s clear that prompt responses to any approach from a customer, or potential customer, are key to success in the competitive online world.

Why hand your competitors a sale, just because nobody was on hand to answer a question at the moment when it was asked?  If something as simple as a basic chatbot can operate at every hour of the day and night, it seems it would be foolish in the extreme not to make full use of the available technology to increase your sales, as well as to provide a high level of goodwill towards your company.

How does a chatbot work?

A chatbot can be as simple, or as complex, as you need it to be.  The most basic level of chatbot certainly won’t blow the budget, and when you consider that it’s always available, even when your business is seemingly closed, then it quickly starts paying for itself ten times over.

The cheapest type of chatbot has a database of responses, which are produced according to the questions or comments that the prospective customer types into the chat box.  Most companies start off with something akin to an FAQ list, defining the most popular questions which they’re faced with on a regular basis, preparing carefully-worded answers accordingly.  In effect, this type of basic chatbot operates like a dynamic FAQ section of your website, providing instant answers to a range of questions.  Responses can be updated and added to, as the need arises, and even the most simple of technologies will ask for a question to be reworded if it doesn’t marry up with anything in the database.

At the other end of the scale, chatbots can be so sophisticated that the user isn’t able to discern whether they’re communicating with a chatbot or a real person.  Artificial intelligence concepts such as machine learning, natural language processing and semantic understanding have become so refined that, according to an article in The Guardian, one enterprising college professor, Emilio Ferrara, who works at the University of Southern California in its machine intelligence and data science unit, created a ‘bot detector’.  Originally named the ‘BotOrNot?’, this piece of software has now become better known as the ‘Botometer’, but although it’s designed to seek out bots, Professor Ferrara reports that AI has now become so sophisticated that it’s almost impossible, in many cases, to ascertain whether you’re communicating with a person or a chatbot.

How a chatbot can help your business

We’ve already covered the fact that the chatbot operates around the clock, unlike a human employee.  And unlike a human employee, your chatbot won’t ever call in sick, request time off for holidays, or ask for overtime.  In fact, once you’ve made your initial financial outlay, the chatbot won’t cost you anything at all, making it a highly cost-effective member of your team.

Depending upon the functionality of your chatbot, you’ll find that it can do a lot more than answer basic questions and provide information about your products and services.  Depending on your business needs, you can have your chatbot programmed to process orders and bookings too, as well upselling and making recommendations.  And their use isn’t just confined to customer services either – a chatbot can provide useful assistance with a variety of administrative tasks too, such as managing inventories.

Here at Brookstone, we’re committed to helping businesses to flourish and grow.  So if you’d like to explore your chatbot options, boost your SEO or add extra value to your website, give us a call today.