Chatbots Are Here!

Have you been to a website where something popped up, usually in the bottom-right corner of the screen, and offered to provide some help and direction to you? Not the kind of pop-up where you expect a real human to be at the other end. Rather, an automated “website concierge” who attempts to understand what you want and then fulfill your request.

Also known as a chatterbot, talkbot, IM bot, or interactive agent, these little pop-up software programs interact with the user in a messaging-like way – the same as you and your friends do when texting via a smartphone. The “dialogue bubbles” that form each side of the conversation typically scroll upwards as the chat progresses. Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant are chatbots, although they interact via voice rather than through the keyboard. This article solely discusses text-based chatbots and how you might employ them within your website.

chatbotSome chatbots are relatively simple, with a few built-in functions and no ability to “think on their own.” The one that greets visitors to the Websmithian website is a perfect example. (His name is Smitty.) Its primary purpose is to gather some statistical information regarding visitors to my website and somewhat-subtly obtain information from prospective customers. (To come clean, it’s also there to demonstrate that I’m more than the typical website designer!) More sophisticated chatbots use AI (artificial intelligence) when engaging with users. Some use natural language processing systems. The majority, including the one that I use and make available to my clients, simply scans words from users’ input and then pulls a reply with the most matching keywords from a built-in database.

Every good salesperson knows that the most important things to know at the outset are about the prospect and their want or need. If you don’t know these things, then it’s pretty tough to help a client solve their particular problem. Ironically, most people in need actually don’t want to give up this information. They think the salesperson will end up using it against them somehow and they’ll end up with something they don’t need. Therefore, coercing this information out of a sales prospect is a lot easier if they’re engaged in a conversation rather than an interrogation!

I think there are some definite parallels here when considering website design and functionality. A contact or enquiry form is a very standard component of many websites. Businesses and organizations use them to obtain helpful information from prospective customers so that they can react in a calculated and helpful way. For example, it might be helpful to know of a prospect’s location (town or city) so that the enquiry can be routed to the proper salesperson. Obviously, a well-constructed contact form could easily get that information from the website visitor.

But imagine that you were wanting to learn the budget or anticipated expenditure of the prospect visiting your website. You could ask for that information in a field on your enquiry form, but you probably wouldn’t want to make that input required. Doing so might spook your prospect to the point where they abandoned submitting the form altogether!

On the other hand, what if your chatbot has engaged in a conversation with one of your website visitors and learned a bit about their need? The chatbot has then conversationally asked-for and obtained the name, phone, and email address of the prospect. If the ‘bot was to then ask for the visitor’s budget number and the process then came to a halt, at least you’d have ended up with some usable and actionable contact info! If nothing else, a call could be made to the visitor thanking them for engaging with the chatbot and then empathising with the prospect’s reluctance to provide such information. In the end, a valid and qualified lead would be provided to the website owner and a live salesperson could then take over the process of learning more about the prospect and their needs and, presumably, providing a solution.

Do a Google search on “chatbot success stories” and you’ll learn of dozens of companies – most of them large – which have saved millions of dollars and increased website leads exponentially via chatbots. And just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean that you can’t get a decent ROI from employing a basic chatbot in your website. If nothing else, it certainly makes your organization appear to be significantly larger than it probably is – and that’s usually not a bad thing! (Unless you’re a website designer, of course. Then it’s “smaller is better!”)

Chatbots can be used for a myriad of other uses:

  • welcoming people to the website and potentially directing them to common destinations within the site
  • scheduling an appointment
  • getting feedback from website visitors
  • obtaining information from a customer who’s returning an order
  • directing job applicants to the proper website page
  • getting information from a customer for booking a trip
  • directing givers who are making a donation
  • providing basic customer care and support resources

I have purchased a chatbot software tool that will allow me to begin constructing simple- to moderate-functioning chatbots for Websmithian clients. While most of my clients will only want and need one chatbot, you should know that I can put two or more different ‘bots in different areas of your website, allowing them to handle different functions. And it goes without saying (but I’ll state it nevertheless!), that all data obtained through these chatbots – whether they complete their help or information-gathering process or not – will end up directly in your hands, where you can then use it to your advantage.

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