The Simple Guide to Chatbots

Your customers want excellent service, at all hours of the day — that’s what the always-on digital world has made us expect. On paper, that sounds like far too much to ask, especially from a small business – but it doesn't have to be. Fortunately, the answer is simple; what you need is a chatbot.

This simple tool can improve the way you operate and the way you are perceived by customers. Chatbots can have an incredibly profound impact on a company with minimal effort; here, we explore what they do, who would benefit from their use and why their popularity keeps on growing.

Here’s our simple guide to chatbots. In it we’ll offer specific chatbot examples to show how one might be used to improve your customer service and save you time.

Ready? Let’s start.

Unlike more generic automated services, chatbots are so much more personal and allow your customer to interact a bit more naturally, as if chatting with a human assistant. A chatbot will take a question, interpret it, and quickly reply with a pre-set answer — or some might use what they’ve learned from previous interactions to reply even more naturally.

At their core, chatbots exist to make customer service more personable in an era of increased digitisation – something vital for any small business looking to create strong, long-lasting relationships with customers. The added benefit here is that they can take the pressure off you, the business owner, by acting as the first port of call for customer enquiries.

The reason customers like chatbots so much is that they get the benefit of human-like conversation, but in a convenient digital environment where they won’t be stuck on hold and will get immediate results. It's a win-win. They’re now so popular that Business Insider published, this year, that the chatbot market size is projected to grow from $2.6bn in 2019 to $9.4bn by 2024. Its adoption has exploded and this trend is continuing as businesses look to these services to save them time and money while still boosting engagement.

The complicated answer is that chatbots are a tool which use rules, machine learning and natural language processing to understand the needs of the customer. In more simple terms they are clever pre-set robots that act as a placeholder for human customer service. Let’s break down some of the chatbot jargon for you:

  • Rule-based chatbots can only respond to specific commands and are only as intelligent as they are programmed to be.
  • Machine learning is where the chatbot learns from the user's requests.
  • Natural language processing is the ongoing analysis of human words to find the right response.

Much of the time, interacting with a chatbot is like using an interactive FAQ page but they can also be set up to mimic speaking with a real person. Realistically, the aim is to mirror that real-world experience as closely as possible, giving your customers the soothing illusion of building a human relationship.

👕 Example: T-shirt printing

You run a printing business, personalising clothing and accessories with logos and designs. A new customer opens the website and the chatbot greets them, asking them what kind of service they're looking for, giving multiple choices for the user to click on. Perhaps they choose t-shirt printing, and the chatbot asks how many, again, giving options.

The chatbot then asks how many colours in their design, and, within seconds, can give the customer a breakdown of the estimated price. It then asks the customer how they'd like to proceed with completing this order, all with the greatest ease and without that user having to dig through the website to make their order the long way or wait for a response from a form submission with a human on the other end.

Chatbots come in all shapes and sizes. You could have a Facebook chatbot serving your customers directly from your page, or you might have a chatbot on your website to serve customers as they browse. These are the most popular types of chatbots but wherever you put yours, it’ll start to save you time as soon as your audience knows it there.

Perhaps the easiest type of chatbot to install is one for Facebook. You can link your page in just a few clicks, giving your customers 24/7 access to your business. Think about where your audience likes to ask questions. Are they using the contact form on your website? Are they sending Facebook messages? Wherever you get enquiries, this is where you should consider getting a chatbot.

The same chatbot can also work across different platforms so you only have to set up your chatbot templates once. This saves you time trying to manage multiple customer service avenues.

Any type of business that takes orders, processes payments, requires bookings or scheduling, or simply doesn't have the time or resources to otherwise keep in touch with customers — these would all benefit from a chatbot. Most importantly, if you want to save time while staying connected to customers, you need a chatbot – it's the direction we're moving in, and businesses that don't keep up can get left behind.

Who would benefit most from a chatbot?

  • E-commerce sites - To simplify decision-making and purchasing.
  • Services such as accountancy and legal - To make finding the answers to questions more simple.
  • Information and education sites - A chatbot can help a user find what they’re looking for, from help articles to relevant downloads.
  • Barbers, hairdressers, garages, salons, hotels, and restaurants - Any business that takes bookings could streamline the process by using a chatbot, as well as encourage reviews and feedback.
  • Any business that needs help managing customer enquiries, especially during busy periods.

There are countless uses for a chatbot; they exist to assist and can be programmed to respond to any kind of query or demand. Here are a few examples of their applications.

Finding information

The most straightforward use of chatbots is to answer questions about your business, from simple details like opening hours, to shipping times, to return policies, to terms and conditions — anything the customer would otherwise have to dig deep into the website to find. A chatbot answering these frequently asked questions can free up your time but it also helps the customer find what they’re looking for quickly.

Help with decision-making

If a user visits your website and can’t find what they need within a few minutes, they’re likely to abandon you in favour of another business. Sometimes, using the search bar yields the wrong results or just seems like too much effort to an instant-gratification internet user.

With a chatbot, the customer can give a vague idea of what they're looking for, and receive a reply of suggestions based on those specifications. In this scenario, it's like having a personal shopper – this is the exact service a sales representative in a shop would provide, giving the user that comforting sense of being properly and personally cared for.

Whether the customer is looking for the right part for their car, or they want help choosing the most flattering t-shirt, a chatbot can help them with that decision.

Taking bookings

It only takes a few clicks to link your business calendar to your chatbot so it can take bookings. This is particularly useful for hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons, hotels, restaurants, garages, and any kind of entertainment business – like escape rooms and theme parks – where users have to book a slot or a day. Rather than go through the potential rigmarole of filling in booking forms, or making a phone call, a chatbot can offer availability and get the customer booked in.

The chatbot could also confirm whether a specific date and/or time is free, make the booking and get it in the digital diary. This also has the benefit of saving time for your staff who would otherwise spend many minutes during the day taking, processing and confirming bookings.

Example: Getting booked in

A chatbot linked to your calendar only needs to ask the customer for a summary of the service they require, and the date and the time of the appointment they want, to add it to the calendar, taking repetitive administrative tasks away from staff and saving time for more important things.

By teaching the chatbot a few key phrases, it can effectively communicate with the customer to arrange the right service, at the right time, on the right date, and then make sure it all gets booked into your diary. This is great for hair appointments, MOTs, consultancy packages, hotel reservations and more. The right chatbot can also take payment, too.

Making payments

Similar to taking and confirming bookings, chatbots can be used to handle and process customer payments by partnering them with a secure payment platform such as PayPal. In the hypothetical situation discussed above, where the chatbot takes a booking, it can even be used to process payment for the service.

Encouraging reviews

Once a customer has bought something or been for an appointment, a chatbot can be used to encourage feedback and testimonials. Something that can help you improve your service and market what you’re doing to others.

The majority of people now lean towards completing all tasks online. According to Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2019, broadband and mobile data usage have risen by 26% and 25% respectively since 2017, and smartphone users are relying on digital services for messaging. Despite this trend towards digital, customers still want the human touch and expect it 24/7 from the businesses they follow.

This human touch is something chatbots can replicate extremely well. In fact, chatbots have one purpose, which is to act as an endlessly polite, eternally helpful company representative who is always there for every single customer who needs it, immediately – something that's impossible to maintain otherwise.

Identifying leads early

A chatbot can identify a lead as soon as they enter the website. Rather than a website that simply sits passively while the customer navigates their way through it, the chatbot engages them right at the beginning of that journey, drawing them in with an interactive experience and pushing them towards the next step of their journey in a way that feels so much more personal. You increase your leads and your customers feel looked after, it’s win-win.

Improving engagement

Identifying leads goes hand-in-hand with engagement. Chatbots allow the flow of conversation, even if the chatbot's responses are script-based, which immediately boosts the engagement of any business and makes the customer feel cared for. The only way this level of engagement can be improved is with face-to-face discussion, something that has been, to a large extent, left behind in a digital world. No matter how much your business talks to its customers using social media, or any other digital format, chatbots can level up your customer communication and engagement.

On top of this is the fact that chatbots can assist multiple users at one time, they're available 24/7, they reply in a matter of seconds and, after the initial set-up, minimal manual input is required. This means that if your Black Friday sale generates a lot of interest, your chatbot can handle those increased enquiries while you can get on with packaging up orders.

Improving your image

Customer engagement is important for any business, not just for the sake of customer longevity, but to show the outside world that your business has a personality and is there for the people who need it. A customer who is happy with the experience will think highly of your business, and word spreads.

A good image brings with it not only more business from the customer side, but, potentially, other stakeholder interest, too. It's not just customers who want to collaborate with a business that has a great reputation, but those looking for jobs who want to work for an organisation that people think highly of. A great reputation could also attract interest from potential investors and buyers.

Collecting data

Chatbots gather and analyse customer information, and learn along the way, allowing them to ask questions in return and improve their intelligence. Their understanding of the customer only improves the experience for that user and makes it more streamlined, while also giving your business a better understanding of those customers which helps with future marketing.

A particularly compelling argument for chatbots is that they save money. How? Chatbots save huge amounts of time that would be spent having a customer service representative or other staff member talk to the customer to answer their enquiry, process their payment or organise their booking. A chatbot could even remove the need for a customer service person on your team, saving an entire salary.

Time is money, and the time it takes to tackle those repetitive tasks has a more effective use elsewhere, be it in marketing your business or doing existing client work. A chatbot takes common questions and customer service tasks and automates them, all while maintaining positive, humanised conversation and building relationships with customers.

Here are some of your most pressing chatbot questions answered.

How much do chatbots cost?

Custom chatbots are very pricey, and often out-of-reach for a small business. In its simplest form as a messenger platform, a business is looking at between £10,000 and £15,000, ranging to as much as £50,000 for a full customer service chatbot with multiple add-on services. Those numbers are pretty scary, but it's, thankfully, not the only route.

Simple chatbot providers, such as Chatt, create easy, customisable templates that simplify the entire process of creating your chatbot — we call these Chatt Maps. You get a clever chatbot assistant straight out of the box for a low monthly rate that's affordable for basically any business. For anybody who wants experts to take the leg work out of creating and putting the chatbot to work, this is the ideal option.

How tech-savvy do I need to be to install a chatbot?

If you go with us, we’ve already done the leg work for you. As long as you can use the internet, you’re good to go with the Chatt Assistant. We’ve already done the technical work, you just have to work through the chatbot templates to make sure your customers are served in the way they’re used to — with your tone of voice and a few specifics about your brand. These Chatt Maps contain everything you need to get started.

For custom chatbots, a little bit more knowledge is required and it’s handy to have a tech team onside to help with implementation. This, typically, isn’t the case for most small businesses, which is why we’ve made the Chatt Assistant as simple to install as possible.

How do I install a chatbot?

Installation can be as straightforward as it gets, with a good chatbot provider. For example, with Chatt, you just pick the chatbot template you want, add a few key pieces of information including company name, and it's ready to launch in a matter of minutes. The service is highly customisable, allowing anyone to build their chatbot and set their personalised questions and responses, and world-leading artificial intelligence is then employed to accurately interpret customer enquiries.

With Chatt, all chatbot services can also be controlled and organised using a simple dashboard, which also allows you to view engagement metrics and gauge the chatbot's success in a real-world way. This helps you improve and personalise your customer communication efforts even more.

Customers are getting more and more used to interacting with chatbots and plenty of businesses are already taking advantage of this. In the future, customers will expect to be able to find out information, ask questions, and book appointments through chatbots. Whether you go for a Facebook chatbot or want one on your website, there benefits for small businesses are huge.

If you’d like to find out more about Chat’s clever assistant that only takes a few clicks to set up, click here.