What is a Chatbot?

by Daniella DeLea

A chatbot is a software application that can be used to have an online chat conversation by text instead of speaking with live-agent.  Chatbots have become more and more sophisticated over the years and now some can behave similar to a human conversational partner. Chatbots are usually accessed on the company’s website via pop-ups or sometimes through a virtual assistant.  The bots usually guide customers through a series of questions and answers; or direct them to the appropriate information. Once a chat begins, usually key words trigger a response from the “bot” on the other end. Chatbots typically come in three forms: rules-based (following a decision tree based upon customer responses to questions), AI (where it automatically learns after an initial training by a bot developer), Live Chat (more simplistic and answers questions in real time).  Chatbots can create more efficiency for a business and ultimately resolve many typical issues that a customer may experience. 

How it can help your business:

Chatbots can be used to help answer simple questions about products for sale on your website and to increase customer engagement.  This can help to cut down on time spent on the web, phone, or email by a customer service team.  For a medium sized business or rapidly growing small business the investment may be worth it particularly as you scale.  Bots can work well when there are large support inquiries depending upon your product or industry.   In addition, bots can help distribute information to clients (such as directing them to website content) etc.  

Things to Consider:

Chatbots are still limited, because it depends on the input you give it (key words) etc and answers/responses to typical questions.  In keeping with this, chatbots require a large amount of conversational data to properly train.   Chatbots also may have difficulty with multiple questions.  However, it may be something to consider depending upon your business model.  As with any new technology, consider what you want to do with it before proceeding.  Make a list of goals you want your bot to accomplish (such as dealing with common customer service issues or generating more leads).  Once you determine what you want to use the bot for, then the next step would be to find the platform you want to put it on.  Most bots are on websites, however, they can also be integrated into Facebook Messenger and Twitter.  Like other marketing materials, the bot will need its own brand voice and personality, which should align with your overall company marketing scheme.  Customers should always know they are chatting with a bot, and have a way to still contact the company if needed.  

Typical Costs:

A chatbot can cost you anywhere from 0-$1000 a month or higher depending on the need.  You will need a software platform ($50-500 per month).  There are also agencies which can be hired to build the chatbot and maintain it for you if necessary (anywhere from $500-5000 per month).  Depending upon your product or the cost and time of answering customer inquiries, the chatbot can prove a valuable tool for your business.