As 2018 begins to wind down, your brand should start looking for ‘the next big thing’. And while no one can predict the future, we think that you should be prepared for whatever 2019 has to offer.   

With the rapid evolution of influencer marketing, user-generated content and artificial intelligence (AI) in full swing, chatbots are riding the wave of change. This is why we have created a helpful and comprehensive guide that will take you from ‘chatbot beginner’ to ‘chatbot champion’.   

What are chatbots?  

First things first – what exactly is a chatbot? It’s a computer programme that mimics human conversation. It really is as simple as that.   

Think of a chatbot as an assistant for your brand. One whose fundamental role is to interact with your consumers instantly, answer questions, drive sales and collect data.   

Why are chatbots an important opportunity for your brand?  

Chatbots are an inexpensive way to ensure your brand is available any time, day or night. They are simply simulated text, but that’s also exactly what makes them so special.   

“Messaging is where we spend a ton of our time and expect to communicate. It is ridiculous we still have to call most businesses,”?says Josh Elman, partner at Greylock.  

As a marketer, it would make sense that you want to build your brand where your consumers are already spending their time. So if your consumers are spending most of their time on messenger apps, then that’s where your brand should be as well.   

Not only do chatbots allow your brand to reach your consumer directly, but they also give your brand the opportunity to increase productivity.   

How, you ask? Chatbots can be programmed as the first line of defense in your customer service department. Their engagement can mimic the tone and style of your brand while quickly and effectively giving your consumers information on products or services.   

By providing an alternative and informative platform for your consumers to turn to, your employees will have more time freed up to work on other ways of improving your consumers’ journey.   

So how do chatbots work?  

Now that you know what chatbots are, and how they’ll be able to benefit your brand, the next step is to understand how they work.  

A chatbot operates through a series of rules that are programmed into a chat interface. And depending on how they’re programmed, they can be divided into two main categories: ‘simple’ chatbots and ‘smart’ chatbots.  

Simple chatbots use a set of basic commands in order to operate. These functions are based on keywords that the chatbot has been designed to understand. A simple chatbot is programmed to only understand specific questions, so if the user asks a question that doesn't exactly match the rules that have been programmed into the chatbot, then it won't understand the query.  

For example, if a user is trying to find out how to open an account at their bank, they will need to specifically ask ‘How do I open a new bank account?’ or the chatbot will be unable to process the question.  

Smart chatbots rely on AI when they communicate with users. By using machine learning, the chatbot can store all the words and phrases it encounters, which it then processes for future use.  

So if a user, for example, is working with a smart chatbot when trying to find out how to open an account at their bank, the bot will be able to interpret the way the user naturally communicates (by using slang words, acronyms, etc.) via text, regardless of how the words are phrased.   

Now that you have built a good foundation of knowledge on chatbots, you may want to decide if they’ll be a good fit for your brand.   

Here are five questions you should ask yourself:   

1. Are there problems that a chatbot would solve for your brand?  

Think about what operational tasks could be made more efficient by using a chatbot. They can be programmed to do a number of things, like answer consumers questions, collect data and even schedule meetings or appointments.   

2. Does your brand need to offer 24/7 support to your consumers?  

It may be worthwhile for your brand to be available to your consumers at all hours of the day – or night, but not convenient for your employees to answer customer queries at 3am. A chatbot can be programmed to instantly help your customer, regardless of the hour, allowing your brand to also consider the needs of your employees.  

3. Who will be using your chatbot?  

Who is your intended target audience? Do they have common questions that could be answered by a chatbot? Are they active on messenger apps regularly? There is a lot to think about when considering your consumers, from the way they speak to the type of chat interface they’ll be most comfortable using, and the kind of tasks they’ll need to use the chatbot for.   

4. How will your brand delegate tasks between human and chatbot?  

Using chatbots doesn’t mean that you need to replace your employees. Instead, your human workforce can now spend more of their time and energy on other tasks that the chatbot can’t complete. However, you need to think about what systems you can put in place to make sure that issues that can't be resolved by a chatbot are reverted to one of your employees.   

5. What parameters will you use to design and implement a chatbot?  

Chatbots function according to the rules set out by their developers. And while many of them function similarly, your brand will be able to create a chatbot that is your own. So it’s important to think about the tone and style of language, how much knowledge of the brand it’ll store and what platforms you want your chatbot to operate on. 

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From chatbots for customer service to self-driving cars, AI is quickly becoming a major part of everyday life. Take a look at our list of 10 AI terms every marketer should know.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy