Graeme Parton, a brand journalist at business mobile messaging firm Textlocal, explains why your startup needs a chatbot.

It’s fair to say that chatbots are a hot-topic right now. They’ve existed for some time, but only recently have companies started to realise just how beneficial they can be to their business. These computer programs make use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, and are capable of performing a number of tasks, from booking flights and ordering pizzas, to checking the weather forecast and hailing an Uber ride.

In an age where consumers are increasingly turning to social networks as a way to get in touch with businesses, chatbots really do make a lot of sense. No matter what type of business you run, a chatbot could do wonders for it.

Why your business needs a chatbot

A lot of companies have their own apps and while they may be useful, collectively, they take up a lot of space on a user’s device. Chatbots are eliminating the need for hundreds of apps; instead, you can use one to contact a variety of businesses.

According to a Facebook IQ survey, 63% of consumers buy products, contact companies and find out information via messaging services, such as Skype, Kik and Facebook Messenger. Some 67% plan to message businesses this way more often over the next two years. Messaging apps are huge – customers don’t want to have to call a number or send an email to businesses, they want to hear back from them straight away.

This means there is a massive market for chatbots, as they allow consumers to interact with companies immediately via a messaging app. In fact, if you’re not building one already, you’re already falling behind your competitors – Facebook Messenger now supports more than 11,000 chatbots.

It’s not just a case of keeping up with your competitors, chatbots can save time, improve cost-efficiency and boost customer satisfaction. Consumers who need a quick answer, want help with finding a particular product, or just wish to book or buy something on the go, can do so via a chatbot. They can get the assistance they need quickly and easily, meaning they’re more likely to convert. Furthermore, 53% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a business if they are able to message them directly.

In turn, this allows your customer services staff to focus on more important and complex issues, such as dealing with customer complaints. All businesses are well-aware just how damaging complaints on social media can be, so solving these problems as quickly as possible will improve your brand’s reputation.

How to create a successful chatbot

There are two main types of chatbot, and the one you need will depend on what service you wish it to fulfil. The simplest form of chatbot is one which functions on a set of rules, meaning it can only respond to specified commands. Whilst it can only provide limited functionality, it’s ideal for finding products or arranging bookings.

Alternatively, you can build a chatbot which uses machine learning to improve itself over time. It understands language, not just commands, and can therefore offer a more life-like service to customers. If you want to create a chatbot that can provide advice and converse with customers, this option is ideal.

The key to creating a successful chatbot is understanding your audience and their needs. Will the language it uses be formal or casual? Does it need to be simple or offer a more human-like experience? Can your audience’s problems be solved by a chatbot alone? These are all questions you need to know the answer for.

Your chatbot shouldn’t be designed to solve multiple problems and provide a number of services. It should have one purpose, whether that’s to provide information, order a product/service or offer advice.

Next you have to decide which platform your chatbot will be hosted on. Do some market research and find out which messaging apps your audience uses. Kik, for example, is mostly used by teenagers, whereas Skype has a much broader audience. Chatbots can even be integrated with existing mobile channels and APIs or websites.

If your business doesn’t have the resources to fund the building of a bespoke chatbot, there are developers who have created basic versions which can be changed and expanded to suit your needs. Even if you don’t have much experience in coding, there is lots of advice available online. Facebook has written this helpful guide which details how to build bots for its Messenger platform.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is: don’t let your chatbot go rogue. If you’re creating one which uses machine learning, make sure it will not respond to or pick up on offensive language. Otherwise, you’ll have another Tay on your hands.

As long as you avoid controversy, chatbots can be a vital asset to any business. They are capable of so much already, and the technology is only going to improve – who knows what they’ll be able to do in the future.

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