By Chuck Leddy
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, more customers have been working, purchasing, streaming entertainment, and communicating at home through digital channels. Marketers around the globe have been scrambling to keep up with dramatic shifts in customer behavior. Online traffic has grown, digital transformation has been accelerated for countless organizations, and traditional marketing channels such as live events/conferences and bricks-and-mortar retail have been completely shut down as customers have transitioned to digital at a time of social distancing.
Chatbots for crisis-ready, revenue-driving engagement
Chatbots can help pick up the slack when it comes to digital customer engagement for B2B marketers. We all live in a 24/7 world filled with a growing number of channels for customer engagement. Customers increasingly can, and do, engage with brands around the clock through self-service chatbots, especially since call centers and bricks-and-mortar channels have been shuttered due to social distancing. In fact, 81% of customers seek out self-serve channels before contacting a call center, while 35% of consumers want the brands they do business with to offer chatbots.
When it comes to B2B customers, chatbot usage has increased 92% from 2019 to 2020, according to research from chatbot software provider Drift. Companies that offer best-in-class self-service tools like chatbots see better results, including higher customer satisfaction rates, increased customer lifetime value (CLV), and twice the revenues generated.
Integrating chatbots into your engagement strategy
Marketers have to accommodate customer preferences and go where their customers go, which is increasingly to 24/7 self-service options like chatbots. Conversational chatbots can answer FAQs, give information about customer orders/accounts, and execute basic transactions. If customers want more complex engagement, chatbots can seamlessly escalate interactions to human agents, with chatbots following along (acting as “virtual assistants”) and supplying human agents with relevant information pulled from an organization’s knowledge base.
No marketing or customer success team has enough members to engage all its customers all the time, but chatbots that integrate AI and machine learning can be used 24/7 to automate customer engagement, allowing marketers to offer customers faster, more targeted, and personalized messaging that facilitates the buying journey. Today’s customers are typically agnostic about the how of engagement, but just want their needs met. Chatbots, especially chatbots integrated with human agents (i.e., blended engagement), can do exactly that.
3 massive benefits of chatbots
Let’s look at some of the benefits of using chatbots as part of an omnichannel customer engagement strategy:
- They’re highly scalable: While a human marketer or customer service person might work 8 hours a day, five days a week, a 24/7 chatbot never sleeps. They’re available whenever a customer might want to engage and are also incredibly productive, ready to answer questions and provide relevant content to anyone, anywhere, anytime. For just this reason, chatbots can handle unexpected surges in customer traffic, so brands won’t need to add more staff to address spikes in customer engagement. Chatbots are fueled by the content that marketers provide, meaning chatbots offer a consistent and standardized customer experience 24/7.
- They have numerous applications: Chatbots have traditionally been used for website chat windows and social messaging, as a way to offer customers answers, resolve common issues and complaints, and offer instructions as part of simple tech support.
Today’s chatbots, however, are becoming more sophisticated, multidimensional and interactive. They use “natural language processing” (or NLP: see explanation below) to understand customer intent and hold conversations with customers. They can even be imbued with brand-appropriate personalities and visual images. In addition, today’s chatbots have expanded into new “task areas” such as processing bills, scheduling appointments, handling purchases, and beyond. As chatbots handle more customer traffic and more complex tasks, they’re also reducing the engagement load on humans.
- They’re smart, continually improving CX: As they engage in more customer interactions, chatbots collect more data and learn from that data — similar to how smart humans gain from experience. Chatbots fueled by AI leverage machine learning to improve as they go. This 24/7 ongoing learning process provides new insights into your customer data and offers marketers a deeper understanding of their customers, which can also be leveraged to drive marketing improvement.
Conversational chatbots in practice
Every conversational chatbot is a collection of AI-related technologies that enable human-like interactions between computers and customers. Chatbots leverage “natural language processing” or NLP, which has 3 distinct components:
- Input: As with human-to-human conversation, it starts with recognizing human speech and/or text, then understanding the intent behind the words. This part of NLP is called “natural language understanding” or NLU. It’s how chatbots listen and understand.
- Analysis: Once the human’s intent has been understood, machine learning automatically goes to work analyzing all the potential responses, using all available customer (and organizational) data, pattern recognition, and algorithms. The machine learning tool eventually determines the right response to the customer for each specific context and question. This part of NLP is akin to a human’s thinking process.
- Response: Last but not least comes “natural language generation” or NLG, whereby the AI-powered chatbot generates an appropriate response to the human in conversational language. The chatbot generates a response, waits for the human’s next move, and the process begins all over again.
In sum, conversational chatbots incorporate context, personalization and relevance within the human-to-computer engagement. Conversational chatbots can be used to respond to customer inquiries (i.e., reactively) or can be deployed to proactively engage customers (initiating conversations, making offers, etc.).
A final word
As Marcus Lambert, CTO of Omobono (a digital agency), explained in a previous Sojourn Solutions blog post: ”It’s not so much about [chatbots and] AI as a technology, but about understanding how it can bring positive impacts on your specific business objectives.” Is now the time to bring in chatbots as you seek to integrate more flexibility and scalability into your customer engagement strategy and positively impact your objectives?
To learn even more about how to leverage conversational chatbots as part of your customer engagement strategy, reach out to us here.
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