The use of chatbots was already on the rise at the beginning of 2020. And then COVID-19 happened.
Chatbots, or online virtual assistants, have seen explosive growth as customer communication tools this year, especially as more people stayed home and looked for “safe” ways to get answers and communicate with businesses. But what exactly do chatbots do and how do they work?
Let’s take a look at what chatbots are, what they can do for you and explore some popular chatbot options available for businesses and marketing teams.
What exactly is a chatbot?
Chatbot technology uses language processing and artificial intelligence to understand what a human is looking for and then adjusts its response to help users get answers. Two of the best-known chatbots today are iPhone’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.
All online chat services – whether live or not – are designed to improve customer service, provide information and answer common questions. They can also provide website or mobile app visitors with a quick way to reach out for answers on more complex questions.
Live online chat services use a person from your team or from a call centre who communicates online with customers by typing. These systems use a chatbot to get a conversation going, but in live chat, the bot “pings” a human user after taking some very basic information from the customer and then the rest of the conversation is live.
With a system that doesn’t include live interaction with a human, a chatbot often collects information so that a human can follow up. The chatbot also may be able to provide answers to basic questions it can recognise.
There are currently two main types of chatbots being used by businesses:
- Rule-based chatbots are the most common. After an initial greeting and “question” by the bot, prospects select an answer and the bot responds based on their answers and guides them in the right direction (using additional questions, if needed). Ultimately, users enter their contact information so that a human can follow up.
- AI-based chatbots use artificial intelligence to recognise patterns and “learn” as they go. They’re built by developers and add to their existing base of information to become “smarter” the more they interact with people.
How companies are using chatbots
Chatbots are useful for all kinds of businesses, but retail and healthcare are two industries that have taken great advantage of them during COVID.
Hospitals, clinics and healthcare teams have been stretched to their limits, so have used chatbots to help “screen” patients for COVID symptoms, offer help and advice, steer patients to the right departments online and provide information on how to stay safe. In the future, chatbots may be used as a standard part of the triage process in hospitals.
In March, the WHO created a WhatsApp chatbot with the help of partner organisations to answer questions about the coronavirus and send updates to followers. Over time, questions have been added in more than 12 languages and the bot has allowed users to get updated case numbers, travel advice and news about the outbreak.
On the food front, international grocery chain Lidl – which operates over 10,000 stores across Europe and the United States – has a chatbot (named Margot) on Facebook to help customers learn about wines. It can provide guidance on which wine to buy, help users learn about how wine is made (there’s a quiz), recommend food pairings and answer questions on 640 different types of grapes.
Popular chatbot options for businesses
Can’t afford live chat services at your company? If you’re thinking about installing a chatbot but don’t have the money to develop one from scratch, there are a number of free or low-cost options that are also pretty easy to set up and install. Here are a few popular choices:
- ManyChat uses Facebook Messenger, a starting template and a basic drag-and-drop interface to help you create a bot for your company quickly and easily. It can also connect to software systems you already use, like Shopify and MailChimp, to improve your marketing and customer relations.
- ArtiBot is a chatbot that can help you capture leads, take payments and book appointments. It’s fast and easy to set up on platforms including Weebly, Squarespace and WordPress. All the basic tools are included free, but you can get extras like SMS notifications with a Pro plan. You can also pay the ArtiBot team to install the bot on your site for you.
- Flow XO is very easy to use (no coding required) and there’s a free version which gives you access to all of the features, but you’re limited to 500 interactions. The bot can answer questions, take payments and help capture leads – for instance, it can collect a visitor’s email address and add it to your MailChimp database. There are also paid versions starting at $19/month.
Think a chatbot might be right for your business? Need help with improving your customer communications and marketing? Contact Breathe Marketing today.