How and Why You Should Be Using Chatbots on Your Website

October 03, 2017

Nothing beats a personal touch. Whether you want to look at a few different options before you buy, ask a couple of questions without sifting through a lengthy FAQ, or get some help with something, we all want customer service that is tailored to our needs. What's more, we want the line between us and the thing we want to be as direct as possible, without having to navigate menus or search results. With all this in mind, it's easy to understand why chatbots have been on the rise in the past few years.

A chatbot helps a user via a text-based conversation, whether embedded on your site or through a messaging platform. It understands some or all of what the user is saying, and then responds with information or options for action.

As promising new technology has become a reality, small businesses have more options than ever to create chatbots that take advantage of the best of what machine learning and AI have to offer--no coding skills required.

Is a chatbot right for you? Let's take a look.

The strengths and weaknesses of chatbots

If you're looking at making the leap into chatbots, it's important to understand that at the end of the day, they're just a UI/UX tool--a different way for users to interact with your company and what it does. Like most tools, there are things that chatbots excel at, and other things that they don't take to as well.

The great opportunity with chatbots is the possibility of designing something that makes it easier and more organic for a user to get the information that they want. Think about a scenario where a potential customer has a question about the dimensions of a product. Normally, a user would have to find the product's page and then go through it to find out where the size is listed, if it's there at all. If it turns out to be too big, the process of finding something the right size will involve a bunch of tabs or maybe even a phone call. You as a vendor could allow the user to sort by dimensions, or list that information in the thumbnail, but you also need to avoid overwhelming customers with options not everyone will need. On the other hand, if your chatbot has access to your products' dimensions, it becomes a relatively simple thing to provide your potential customer with a list of everything you have that will fit in their bedroom corner.

It's easy to envision a different version of this scenario that highlights the weaknesses of a chatbot solution. If the bot doesn't have access to dimensions or doesn't recognize keywords like "size" or "smaller than," the process could be very frustrating for your customer. Like any other design, a chatbot is limited by what scripts you've written for it.

Getting started with your chatbot

So how do you get started with your own chatbot? First, figure out what you want it to do. Is it primarily for customer service? Do you need to find things in your inventory? What about taking care of routine tasks? Once you know what you want, you can start making detailed scripts to plan for it. Most importantly, make sure that you plan your exit scenarios. Your bot might not be able to handle everything on its own, so make it easy for users to send an email to someone who can help.

There are several tools that can help you get started building your own bot, and the time saved can be huge. Facebook has an option via its Messenger Platform, and other tools are always popping up like ChattyPeople, FlowXO, BotKit, ChatFuel, and more.

The key to building a chatbot that works is to spend some time brainstorming common questions: business hours, directions, inventory availability, ticket information, etc. You also need to generate a list of keywords related to those categories, so the chatbot can use them to understand what the user is asking for. These form the basis for how the user navigates your bots' interface. As with any new tool, the key is to provide a space for users to give feedback if they can't find what they're looking for and to constantly take a look at how people are doing to see if you can refine it.

If you can think of a scenario where simple English commands and questions could help a customer faster than combing through your website, it might be time to give chatbots a try.

This article originally appeared on Inc.

Are there scenarios where simple commands and questions could help a customer faster than combing through your website? It might be time to give chatbots a try.

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