The world of science fiction is breaking through into the real world of ecommerce, social media and modern business. People are talking to machines and computer programs without even realizing it, and the implications for retailers and online businesses are staggering — and exciting.
Chatbots are more than just a hot, geeky trend for teens and millennials. This technology is revolutionizing the way people buy and sell online, and it could be a game-changer for your business too.
What Is a Chatbot?
A chatbot is simply a text-based computer program that is set up to mimic human speech patterns while interacting with humans. Many of them are similar to speech-based programs like Siri and Cortana, except that they use text rather than speech. They are used in texting programs in apps or on a website to guide users toward a purchase. Some chatbots can even interact with shoppers in-store through touchscreen kiosks or handheld devices.
Chatbots can also be used in a customer-service capacity, either to resolve issues or to eliminate several seconds of a human employee’s time narrowing down the problem before handing the customer off to an actual person, much the same way that telephone-based systems acquire caller information before directing the caller to a human service rep in the appropriate department.
Advantages of Using Chatbots for eCommerce
On an ecommerce platform, chatbots could be used to greet customers as they arrive on site and ask what types of products the visitor would like to see. Bots could direct the customer to current specials, favorite brands or similar items to the ones that the customer is showing interest in or based on past purchases. A bot can act like a digital shopping concierge, greatly enhancing the user experience and ultimately leading to more sales and loyal, long-term customers.
The primary benefit of using a chatbot is that doing so will save money. Humans are typically paid by the hour and are limited to a one-on-one interaction, so if you can get a computer program to serve the same function, then you can potentially save a lot of money. An ecommerce software solution utilizing chatbots can perform basic interactions with hundreds of customers simultaneously on your ecommerce website, greatly reducing the need for actual human employees. With the assistance of chatbots, a handful of customer service reps can now accomplish the same amount of work that would otherwise require an entire call center, so the cost savings can be significant.
And these same benefits and cost savings can apply to small businesses as well as larger ones; it’s just a matter of scale.
Limitations of Chatbots
The primary problem with chatbots is simply that they are still in development, as this is an emerging technology. Even with the great strides in artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years, there are still going to be situations where bots cannot fully understand how to help a customer or are not capable of meeting the customer’s need. That is where the bot will need to hand off the customer to a live human to complete the interaction, much as a phone operator for a retail company takes over once a caller hits a roadblock on the automated phone system.
But chatbots are improving at a rapid pace, so it is not inconceivable that they will largely replace humans in many capacities. In fact, many people today already interact with chatbots without even realizing that they are not chatting with an actual human being.
The Future of Chatbots
With the great strides in AI and chatbot technology, there is no doubt that chatbots are the wave of the future. They are becoming more prevalent in ecommerce and social media faster than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. As more people move to the internet for their shopping needs, chatbots will rise to greet them and assist them in finding the products and services they seek while reducing costs and improving customer service.