Chatbots: A Big Help For Small Businesses
by John Cosley , Op-Ed Contributor, July 28, 2017
Every marketer knows that consumers place a high premium on convenience — we want the information we’re seeking quickly and easily. But for many small businesses, offering that convenience can come at a hefty price.
According to a report from The Alternative Board, small business proprietors and their staff spend up to 45% of their of time on the phone and on email answering the same few questions. That is precious time they could be spending on sales, customer service and growing their business.
In an age when most everyone has access to a search engine wherever they are, why is this happening?
If They Can’t Find It They’ll Call
Believe it or not, much of the information customers of these local businesses are seeking isn’t published online or is hidden in an unintuitive corner (i.e., page) of the site. Sometimes that information is as simple as name, address, hours of operation and products and services offered.
In other instances, consumers are looking for detailed information specific to a product or service — like ingredients and allergy information for restaurants, what the warranty is on a product ,or when to arrive for an appointment for healthcare providers with a minimum wait time.
Faced with the daunting task of finding answers that may (or may not) be posted on social networks, review sites, apps or other sources not available to search engines, consumers naturally just pick up the phone or compose a simple email.
Tackling Questions With Conversations
The repetitive nature of these inquiries offers these businesses an opportunity, thanks to the emergence of Conversations as a Platform.
Technologies like natural-language processing, AI and machine learning are creating new, more conversational ways for consumers to engage with the brands they are interested in. This new platform includes bots, which can apply the power of human conversation to everything.
Take the scenario of the local restaurant owner who would like to spend more time with the customers he has currently dining at his restaurant, rather than the potential customers considering a reservation via their smartphone with questions like: What are the most popular menu items? How much would dinner for two cost? Are there vegan and gluten-free items? And when is the best chance of getting a table on the patio?
For that mom and pop wanting to spend more time in their retail shop and not in the back office answering phone calls, an intelligent bot could be answering queries like: What deals do you have on right now? How soon will this item come back into stock? And how much will shipping be if I order a bigger quantity?
While companies like Alaska Airlines helped pioneer customer service chatbots via their automated assistant, Jenn back in 2008, the technology is becoming more accessible and easy to use for smaller businesses to capitalize on this trend.
Getting Back To Business
Bots may be the key to helping local business owners get off the phone and back to building their businesses. By engaging with customers in a natural, conversational way, bots can answer those frequently asked — and time consuming — questions, all while improving the customer experience and the bottom line.