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Humanity has long been fascinated by the prospect of developing a machine that can accurately mimic its own appearance, behavior, and emotional complexity.
Aristotle speculated that technological advancements in robotics could one day usher in unprecedented human equality, and ultimately abolish the need for work. Early Chinese lore dating back to the fourth century tells the tale of an “artificial man” who both fascinates and terrifies the king. Leonardo Da Vinci famously designed, and possibly even constructed, a “mechanical knight” that could perform automated behavior like sitting, standing, or moving its arms around.
Now, humanity faces an unprecedented revolution in automation, where these once fanciful aspirations have become increasingly commonplace. And while no brilliant minds have yet invented a bot capable of passing the Turing test, that hasn’t stopped many brands from recognizing the helpful ways they can already improve customer experience.
You’ve likely encountered a few ecommerce chatbots during your own online shopping experiences: maybe an automated pop-up on an ecommerce platform, a ping on Facebook messenger, or an in-app assistant. They can range from offering simple, FAQ-tree-style conversation to being full-blown artificial intelligence (AI) powered machines.
When implemented correctly, they can save costs, broaden brand awareness, and increase sales across various touch points.
All of this raises the question: Is this kind of automation the right fit for your company? Below, you can review some basic best practices and elements to consider before launching an automated customer service program.
If it seems like chatbots are everywhere these days, you’re not wrong: 67% of global consumers told Invesp that they’ve used one for customer support within the last year. A Salesforce survey also found that 23% of customer service companies employ chatbots, with a further 31% planning to start using them within the next 18 months.
There are a few reasons for this trend. One is that advancements in AI and machine learning technology have also empowered brands to create smarter, more intuitive, and increasingly helpful ecommerce chatbots than those on the market even five or 10 years ago.
Another is that user adoption of the “big four” messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal) has finally reached the same levels as the “big four” social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram).
Thus, customers are more comfortable than ever using their mobile devices to engage in one-on-one conversations, and many seem to prefer this communication method when engaging with brands.
According to a report released by LivePerson, Inc., a global leader in conversational AI, 77% of consumers report that they are more likely to make a purchase if they could browse or get answers over messaging services.
Today’s consumers often prefer messaging with a brand to email, phone calls, and social media interactions.
For many types of direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses, there are a number of advantages to incorporating automated chat into the customer experience. Common benefits include:
Once developed, conversational AI technology has been found to reduce as much as 30% of a brand’s customer service costs, according to VentureBeat. This can be particularly helpful in allowing your brand to consistently meet customer expectations as your company grows.
You can also free up time for your existing customer service team. If a bot is able to handle a majority of inquiries, your team can tackle more complicated asks that your customers present (as well as avoid answering the same few questions every day).
A Drift report found that customers identified 24-hour service as the number-one benefit of brand chatbots (“getting an instant response” and “answers to simple questions” were tied for second place).
If your brand frequently gets customer inquiries at odd hours, it might be a no-brainer to implement a simple chatbot system for everyone’s benefit.
Ecommerce chatbots enhanced with machine learning capabilities are able to provide personalized experiences for your users, including recalling past interactions, prior purchases, manner of speaking, and more.
This is a great way to keep your customer engaged along various touch points, as well as collect your own actionable data about them for future campaigns.
Advanced chatbot systems are starting to support a wide range of languages that could easily expand the reach of your brand to new markets.
The benefits of launching a chatbot certainly have their appeal. That being said, developing a system that meets the needs and expectations of your customers is no easy feat, and can often require a great deal of planning and strategizing. A few common problems brands might encounter include:
Customers remember amazing customer service experiences when a brand engages them with empathy, understanding, and warmth. However, there is such a thing as taking it too far.
There’s a phenomenon known as the “uncanny valley” sensation. Virtual characters or human-like robots might seem convincing to a point — but if they ultimately fail — they leave users with an overwhelming uneasiness.
So, if your automated chat experience comes off as stilted, scripted, or robotic, you might turn off more customers than you actually help. Rather than enjoying an immediate, helpful answer to their question, customers might instead leave the interaction feeling stonewalled or unimportant.
Little touches like personalization, the injection of light humor, or even incorporating emojis and GIFs can go a long way in alleviating some of the social awkwardness customers might feel when interacting with a bot.
Consider the ways you can make your responses engaging, colorful, and on-brand.
If a customer has a complicated question and realizes they’re interacting with a chatbot, they might end the encounter in frustration. One way to address this problem is to provide an easy (but not too enticing) option early in the interaction to “speak with a human,” if necessary. This offer can be triggered by certain keywords or through a menu-style chat approach.
Ongoing testing is essential to ensure that your chatbot experience remains an engaging one long-term — especially if your system is enhanced with machine learning.
There are two suitable approaches here. The first is employing an automated testing service to map out unexpected replies and identify any potential issues. The second involves conducting some manual testing of your own — that is, acting as a customer and posing unexpected or complicated queries to the system. Both techniques have their advantages, and a hybrid of both strategies is probably your best bet.
Now that you have a grasp of some of the benefits and challenges brands might face when implementing automation, the big question is: Does it make sense for your business? Here are a few points to consider:
If responding to customer inquiries isn’t much of a pain point for your company, it likely doesn’t make sense to expend the time and resources necessary to create a robust chatbot. There’s no hard-and-fast cutoff, but if your brand isn’t fielding thousands of inquiries a year, your efforts may be better spent elsewhere.
A chatbot should be an “icing on the cake”-style feature, putting the final touch on your customer’s shopping experience. Ultimately, your chatbot should field any last-minute objections or concerns at the moment just before shoppers make a purchase.
If your brand struggles to get shoppers to that point in their journey, focus on improving other aspects of your customer experience before developing an automated chat service. Or, perhaps a chat service can help fill some of these gaps.
It might be surprising to learn that smaller brands are the most frequent adopters of this approach. As SmallBizGenius reports, 40% of companies with a staff between one and 10 employees provide automated chat services, much higher than their larger counterparts.
If you have a smaller sales or customer service staff, automating some of their basic interactions could easily increase your reach with customers.
If so, you’ll save a lot of time and resources automating those kinds of conversations.
As robots become increasingly common — vacuuming your home, helping you conduct Google searches, or driving you to your destination — they’ll continue to inform and enhance the customer experience in the years to come.
At whatever pace your brand chooses to adopt these emerging innovations, just remember: The change has already begun.
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