Science fiction writer William Gibson said ‘the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed’ this sums up the state of chatbots in 2018. Chatbots are here already, they’re just not evenly distributed.
So where are they distributed?
For the large part, they’re in the hands of big businesses with deep pockets and the resources to build and deploy them. Chatbots are exorbitantly expensive to procure and most small businesses haven’t the appetite or money to even consider them. That’s if they even know what a chatbot is (but that’s a separate issue entirely).
But here’s the kicker: small businesses are precisely the type of business that could benefit from chatbots.
Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation (a trade association for small to mid sized businesses) makes a valid point that technology can enable SMEs to (even) compete with large businesses:
‘Big firms have the resources to invest in the latest digital e-commerce and m-commerce functionality, SEO, marketing, and everything in between. Smaller firms have been slower on the uptake over the years, and seem to have less appetite for it. They are busy simply running the business and don’t always see the benefits that digital can deliver. And yet the digital world is an area that they absolutely can compete with larger firms on.’
So how could chatbots help a small business out?
While customers are the lifeblood of any business – regardless of its size – small businesses have a disadvantage because they have to do everythingthemselves on a shoestring. At any one time, a small business owner wears multiple hats: buyer, seller, marketer, customer support, etc.
Chatbots aren’t about to start creating business strategy (yet, anyway) but where they can help with is customer support.
A chatbot allows a business to automate a lot of it’s day to day questions and answers. Commonly asked FAQs that either reside on a companies website or in the business owners head can be built into a chatbot and then made available 24/7 for customers to interact with.
To be workable for a small business, any solution has to do the following:
- a simple and intuitive drag and drop interface for creating chatbots — small business owners shouldn’t need to be tech wizards to build bots.
- be cost effective — small businesses have to watch the pennies.
- deployable on multiple channels — to be competitive businesses need to be on multiple channels, not just one. That’s where their customers are.
- let’s not forget voice. Amazon’s Echo voice device was the biggest selling item over last Christmas — there should be a way for businesses to be present on voice devices too.
- the bot should be deployable across multiple channels, but managed in one central nerve centre. Business people don’t have the time to be bouncing from one platform to the next. A single interface to manage their chatbot data is a must.
- in today’s global economy, a businesses best customers may live in other countries and speak different languages. The bot should be able to translate conversation as well as present analytics around customer interaction.
All this may sound like chatbot utopia, but it always seems impossible until it’s done (to quote Nelson Mandela).