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How chatbots are changing small businesses

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Chatbots are spreading like wildfire.

You’ve seen them around the web; on retail sites or popping up when you’re getting some online banking done.

We’ve already seen digital assistants like Siri and Alexa have become staples in the home, but it seems that the chatbot is poised to help people at work, too.

Sure, bots are already pretty ubiquitous. However, there’s a shift happening. The technology isn’t just for the Amazons and Apples of the world, now, even”regular Joe e-commerce,” can have a bot all his own.

Oracle just announced the availability of Oracle Digital Assistant, which allows companies to incorporate existing chatbot technology into their own solutions. And they’re not the pioneers, here.

Google, Amazon, and Facebook have already released the algorithms behind their smart assistants, which allow third-party providers to build on top of an existing chatbot framework.

Here’s a little more about where chatbots can fit into the small business space, as well as some of the capabilities that extend beyond IM-ing with algorithms.

How chatbots are changing the internet

So what can a chatbot do?

Well, the idea is a chatbot can carry on a conversation with users like a real live human. Companies across all industries from banking to food delivery and retail are taking advantage of this technology is growing numbers.

Still, a report from Gartner found that as of spring 2018, most businesses were not using chatbots and were not evaluating the technology at all.

Chatbots, though, do promise some answers to some of the problems that small organizations have faced since, well, forever.

Between picking up the slack for overwhelmed owners or boosting customer engagement, small businesses should really consider jumping on the bot bandwagon ASAP.

1. Chatbots becoming live assistants

Chatbots are now being used as a way to deliver information to customers and provide a tailored customer experience in businesses of all sizes.

In small businesses, these digital assistants serve as the first point of contact, offloading customer questions, while you attend to other things.

For example, one might integrate a bot into an event app. So, when attendees show up to a conference or music festival, the bot can fill them in with all the basics: Wi-Fi passwords, bathroom locations, last-minute changes, the list goes on.

2. Bots offer some sales support

A bot can take orders from customers using simple commands. So, instead of making a phone call or manually adding items and credit card details to a website, customers can tell the bot what they want.

And your bot can explain add-ons or upgrades to visitors, just like a sales rep might—minus the commission check.

Chatbots can be customized to upsell items and cross-sell related products. Small businesses can use bots to fill in the blanks created by a smaller sales force.

It’s not so much that chatbots are replacing jobs in this case. Instead, small businesses can only hire so many people and employing chatbots as a way to sell products means, they don’t need to bulk up their salesforce—and get on the hook for payment if they don’t end up bringing in the money promised.

3. Increase engagement

A helpful chatbot on your social profiles can help you boost engagement. For example, if a customer visits your Facebook page and asks a question, your bot can direct them to your site—delivering the content that matches the question.

Or take Sephora for example. The cosmetics brand developed their own bot on Kik, which functions as a shopping assistant. The bot works to understand customers by gathering data that informs the content they serve up.

Here’s a look at the glamorous bot in action:

How exactly do chatbots collect data?

The chatbot records all conversations, saving a repository of data that it can reference to get better as time passes.

The chatbot, when coupled with natural language processing, or NLP, gives bots the potential to identify specific keywords. And those keywords (think “return,” “refund,” “exchange”) help bots recognize context and route inquiries accordingly.

The benefit of the bot is, it remembers the small stuff. Even the best customer service rep is going to be focused on several other things while talking to a customer—they need to focus on providing the best service right then and there.

Chatbots are predictive. Meaning, they can remember an earlier conversation with a customer and make targeted recommendations based on likes, dislikes, and habits.

Based on that, small brands stand to offer highly customized service, without adding to their workload.

Big data is no longer just for big business

Big data, buzzword of yore, is another potential area where chatbots can thrive.

Here, the value comes in the form of deep analysis. Chatbots’ core algorithm works to identify patterns. That’s how they mimic our conversational patterns, after all.

More sophisticated bots can be trained to identify tones or specific groups of words that signify whether a customer is upset or pleased with a product or service.

The goal is to catch underlying issues as they emerge before they become a problem.

Conclusion

While chatbots have been cropping up as something as an annoyance across every site with something to sell, there are stirrings of something else happening in the space: accessibility.

As humans, we crave a certain personal touch.

We want bots that toss the conversational “ball” back and forth, not chat partners who spit out a link and call it a day. But today’s AI helpers are starting to take on a more conversational tone.

Developers are working on making these digital assistants more helpful and industry-specific. And, eventually, it seems, we’ll start seeing the payoff in the form of better service and more personal solutions.

The exciting thing about chatbots is, most of the benefits they provide are about making things personal. Where small businesses of the past got to know their customer in person, they’re now operating on this global scale. The automated, tailored experience makes customers feel seen.

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