How a Chatbot Could Benefit Your Small Business

February 04, 2019 08:23 PM

Artificial intelligence can improve customer service and even increase engagement with your brand.


Respond to customer inquiries after hours and increase your overall efficiency by employing a chatbot. (Photo: denvitruk/Shutterstock)


by Meg C. Hall


Robots may not be taking over everyone’s jobs quite yet, but they are making their way into the small business world. More companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve how they interact with and service their customers — namely, with chatbots.


NCR Silver asked two experts about how chatbots, or “conversational AI,” are being used.


What is a chatbot?


According to Adelyn Zhou, founder of tech research and advisory firm Topbots, a chatbot is “a computer program that you can talk to, whether it’s by voice or text.” If you’ve ever asked Siri a question on your iPhone or told Alexa (Amazon Echo) to skip ahead to the next song in your playlist, you’re probably familiar with chatbot tech.


Yoav Barel is founder and CEO of the international Chatbot Summit in Berlin. He said chatbots are providing business owners with a new kind of user interface that allows consumers to “communicate with brands the same way they communicate with friends and family — via a natural conversation.”


What can a chatbot do?


Businesses can use bots in a number of ways to help with marketing, sales and customer support, typically through their website or a messaging app like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Slack.


Here are a few examples from Barel and Zhou of how a chatbot could benefit your business.


Extend your availability. Providing 24/7 support from live people can get expensive. But chatbots can answer the most common customer questions. “A chatbot can make it easier for a business owner to respond to customer inquiries at all hours of the day, even during closed times,” said Zhou.


Triage customer questions. Chatbots “can also serve as a first line of triage for simple questions of location, store hours and order status, thus freeing customer service representatives to focus on higher level inquiries,” said Zhou. If the question is too complex for the bot, it can be automatically escalated to a human customer service agent.


Increase efficiency. Because bots have a real-time link with your business systems, they can quickly and efficiently perform tasks, such as searching for an item in your inventory, that could take an employee several minutes. Chatbots can also help customers with more personalized requests, such as appointment updates and reminders, said Zhou. You can even book dinner reservations through a bot — which means fewer phone calls for your restaurant at peak hours.


Create engagement. Chatbots can be given personalities, which is a great way to bring your brand to life for the consumer. Customers interacting with the bot will be more engaged in the conversation when it has a personality, said Zhou.


An example of Disney’s successful ‘Zootopia’ chatbot. (Photo: Disney)



Chabots can even help with promotion. Disney created a bot to promote the movie “Zootopia.” Users “chatted” with the character Judy Hopps on Facebook and helped her solve cases. “Kids ended up conversing with the bot for up to 10 minutes, which is unheard of with just a regular ad,” said Zhou.


Conversations build rapport much more effectively than an ad or video. “The interaction leaves users with an entertaining experience, a better understanding of the brand and a positive emotional feeling — takeaways rarely achieved with traditional ads.”


And more. According to Barel, more uses for chatbots are on the way. “In the not so distant future, we will be able to communicate with our bank, get recommendations on movies and order a cup of coffee from a friendly chatbot.”