While still far from perfect, automation continues to rapidly improve and is becoming more useful in driving and connecting tools, apps and services for B2C and B2B. One of the most interesting areas of this development is chatbots and the increasing significance of chat interfaces.
What exactly is a chatbot?
In its beginner's guide, Chatbots Magazine gives the following definition:
“A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc.).”
These services range from automated live chat on your website to e-commerce through messaging apps.
Chatbots are highly efficient and lend themselves to improvement and adaptation, giving them great potential. They are already being put to work in some interesting use cases:
- News site Quartz have developed a mobile app that will message you about stories matching your interests and then answer your questions, creating an engaging way of learning about current affairs that lets you zoom in on the aspects of stories that most interest you.
- The DoNotPay app is billed as 'The World’s First Robot Lawyer', allowing you to message it about overturning parking/speeding tickets or getting compensation for a delayed flight.
- Sage released a messaging bot named Pegg that assists with expenses, salary reporting and invoicing.
Chatbots in Enterprise
So how can chatbots generate value and ROI for your business?
It is perhaps stating the obvious at this point, but users spend a lot of their time on mobile and in messaging apps. In April, Business Insider reported that messenger apps have overtaken social media networks in terms of monthly active users. Everyone already knows how to message and it’s an easy way for them to interact with organisations.
Why should this be less true in a B2B, enterprise context than in a B2C, customer one? From the customer’s point of view, why should ordering bulk products in their business life be dramatically different from ordering individual items as a consumer? Although there are, of course, some different considerations, the basic principle of wanting to smoothly select and purchase goods and services online remains the same.
Chatbots are certainly not infallible and the tech press has seen the usual slew of articles for and against that generally occurs with any emerging technology. Much has been made about the fact that most chatbots can’t yet run particularly impressive AI, and some even have plenty of human input behind the scenes. The shift however, is more about the clear customer preference for the simplicity and speed of this kind of interface; even where there are support teams pointing a chatbot in the right direction, they are interacting with customers via a messaging/chat platform.
Let’s be honest, most enterprise software today is not renowned for great user experience, it is far more likely to be synonymous with bloat and cumbersome workflows. This is why we are seeing more and more user-centric tools that borrow from B2C practices, introducing consumerisation to digital workplace products. Automated assistants such as Zoom can be the virtual assistant for everyone in your organisation, streamlining all kinds of processes and scheduling to free up your employees’ time. Slack, a favourite of the tech sector, brings all of your communications into one place and can integrate with bots.
Chatbots could enormously improve the user experience for both your customers and your team when it comes to CRM, for instance. An extension or third-party service could speed up and automate data entry, preventing data leakage in the process. 'Slackbots' like Troops connect CRM software with Slack, easily pushing and pulling data with the goal of allowing Slack to become the communications hub for your sales team, letting them interact with each other and the CRM through the same chat interface quickly and efficiently.
As sales and marketing teams have started to work together more closely, the primary software applications used by these teams have become connected; CRM and sales software is now often integrated with marketing automation.
Customer service and support are now starting to be brought into this where previously they had been disconnected. If added into this picture, chat interfaces can capture multiple communication channels while simultaneously being synced with other tools on your platform, moving you closer to the desired single customer view.
Chatbots and Digital Transformation
So what do you need in order to start being able to gain some of the competitive benefits that chatbots can offer?
There are numerous ways this can be approached and it does not have to mean all or nothing. The increasing popularity of messaging and broad trend towards chat interfaces being the user preference means that this is a significant shift. However, savvy organisations looking to increase their ROI are already engaged in wide-ranging digital transformation, representing the growing importance of digital in enterprise and in the world in general.
If you are in this category, you are already building strong digital foundations and developing a flexible digital strategy. This will almost certainly encompass some of the prerequisites for taking advantage of the emerging messenger/chatbot revolution. Consider the following:
- Do you have strong digital foundations in place and a roadmap for your digital strategy?
- Do your teams have the necessary technical expertise to build and maintain a solid digital platform capable of interacting with chatbots?
- Are you looking to use chatbots as a customer-facing tool to provide support and collect relevant data? Or as an in-house communications hub to save time and increase productivity? Or both?
- Will you be looking to build custom extensions for existing platforms or developing a chatbot that integrates with one of the popular messaging apps?
- Make sure to think about the other capabilities that will be necessary to making chatbots work for you: security, testing and monitoring are all as important here as in any other area of the business.
Careful thinking and discussion about these questions will help you start to research what chat services are capable of, and will allow you to generate ideas about where they could fit into your business.