The chatbot is a marketing and customer service technology that comes of age in 2018, after a couple of years of learning the ropes through company tests and trials. But, how can businesses, new and experienced in bots, take advantage of them in a world where apps, social media and other trends like AR are eating into budgets? 

So far, in most cases, chatbot rollouts have been very pointed and focused on a limited set of customers or based on a limited offer or experience. Even major brands like British Airways have restricted use to trials of an emoji-based chatbot for special seasonal offers, while Mall of America recently tried to help customers through the festive crush with AI-based directions and recommendations.

In Asia, the landscape is more advanced with Indian, Chinese and South Korean airlines, banks and other companies rolling out full customer-service chatbots to meet their massive user bases and help take some of the load. As western rollouts start to reach the scale and ambition of Asian efforts, bot builders need to remember the aim of the bot is a simple yet engaging conversation.

Whatever the effort so far, there is enough data for companies to develop a plan and strategy, but even if your company is planning a first chatbot, this guide covers all the bases.

Plan & Define Your Goals

What do you need from a chatbot? How will your customers benefit from one? These are the key questions that need to be answered before even thinking about the detail. Take the time to define what sort of conversation you want your chatbot to have. If early experiments proved successful, then expand the scope of the chatbot to add new layers of questions, deeper information access and equip it to answer more complex questions. If the tests generated poor customer feedback, ask if the test was well-defined. Perhaps starting again will be a better option. If the bot was considered an outright failure, future efforts may prove more fruitful in the hands of another team.

Study Users & The Market

To many data-focused companies, users are simply account numbers or email addresses. Chatbots help you find out more about them, and the type of information they need. If you haven’t run a test look at other competitors in your market and see what they have done with chatbots to find out what sort of questions your chatbot might ask. Existing bots and chatbot libraries, like SnatchBot’s Bot Directory provide a useful starting point for those embarking on their bot journey. From health to hospitality, retail to eateries, there are plenty of well-defined examples you can use as a launchpad.

Build A Paper Chatbot

Write down the questions you want to ask, and that users need answers to. Order them on paper (or on a spreadsheet) by priority or category to create a script. This is how most chatbots work, and you can build a tree based on yes/no or more complex answers to come up with a useful product relevant to your business needs. Smaller businesses with simple needs can build the example live into the chatbot editor, creating the branches as they go. However, every word and line needs to be seriously considered for usefulness, impact and helpfulness. Chatbots need to be clear and to the point.

Giving Chatbot A Personality

Having said that, most customers like to see a little warmth from their chatbots, to get over the feeling they are just talking to a script. Enterprises are more likely to stick to polite and informative, with some gentle repartee, while brands talking to a younger audience can play around more with language for greetings and confirmations. Match the personality to your company’s overall tone, but as long as you avoid becoming overly familiar or cheeky, most chatbots can get away with a surprising amount. If you have call center staff, you might want to borrow from some of your best-performing agent’s style of chat. Check out this piece on adding personality to chatbots.

Develop & Test

Spend plenty of time private testing the bot to make sure it works and provides all the information it needs to. Let non-team members test it for a fresh opinion, they will easily spot issues that those building the bot might look over or consider trivial. Avoid painful loops in the conversation, and always provide links to human support via phone, email or IM if it really can’t help. Use the bot to send a stuck customer’s issue to the right person to speed the response time. Refine the conversation to meet the original needs listed and avoid over-complicated it.

Deploying Your Chatbot

If there has already been testing, either in platforms, across different social media, you will have a better idea of where your users are when they need help, and where the best place to locate a chatbot is. If your company only has a website, then the options are limited. But companies with multichannel social media can deploy the chatbot across an app, website and social media for maximum exposure. When live, monitor the bot initially for the quality of interactions and to ensure that users are working with it as you would expect. If whole branches are regularly missed out, you might want to reorder the chat or make certain options more obvious.

Chatbots are easy to update and modify while live, helping refine your bots before there is time for any negative sentiment to build. Use that feature to your advantage.