In the past, small business owners sometimes lacked the resources—both financial and human—to capitalize upon the latest productivity and customer service technologies. Fortunately, the pace of change and the proliferation of new software programs have begun to make innovative technology accessible and affordable. Chatbots—software programs that can hold a two-way conversation with people—are a prime example of accessible and affordable technology.
Language is a complex process and, until recently, teaching a machine how to understand different jargon, accents, and all the other variables involved in speech was only partially successful. Today, programmers use different methods to teach a machine to learn a language through experience, which is why the iPhone’s Siri gets better at understanding what you want the longer you use it. As the chatbots have become smarter, consumers have become happier dealing with them. In your everyday life, it is likely that you encounter chatbots in various modes—confirming a doctor’s appointment, ordering prescription medications, or conducting simple financial transactions with your bank.
The technology research group Gartner has predicted that customers will soon interact via chatbots and other AI technology for a whopping 85 percent of their dealings with various companies used for personal and business purposes.
Small Businesses Reap Benefits
As consumer acceptance has increased, many small businesses have been quick to adopt chatbot technology to provide a consistent and affordable level of quality in customer service. Even businesses that provide professional services, such as banks and financial institutions, are using technology to manage and answer simple requests and forwarding more complex inquiries to a human being. For many small businesses, putting a live chatbot tool on their website to respond to questions typed in by website visitors has proven invaluable, providing a degree of customized service that a small firm with just a few employees would find difficult to deliver.
Chatbot’s Fastest Growth
Experts suggest we should expect to see chatbots take off in a variety of business sectors—especially those where customer service is a make or break proposition.
- Restaurants – Some national restaurant chains are already using chatbots that customers can access through their Facebook messenger (instant messaging service) account to order food for delivery. Other quick-service chains have installed bots that act like waiters—answering questions, reading the menu, making recommendations, and handling payment transactions.
- Education or training – Facebook recently developed an experimental program—modeled on Albert Einstein—to provide answers to and conduct conversations with consumers. This could be the springboard for a variety of educational purposes, using historical or fictional characters to make education accessible and fun for more people.
- Personal Assistants – Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using voice commands for a variety of purposes in their work and home life. Perhaps the best-known examples are services like Amazon Echo and Google Home. These home-based assistants are connected to an operating system and can obey commands that include reprogramming heat/cooling systems, playing music, or looking online for movies playing nearby. There are many ways they can assist people who run home-based businesses—locating a delivery service, determining where the nearest Fed Ex pickup point is, or finding flight and hotel recommendations.
Chatbots may be a relatively new trend in many industries, but their efficacy in natural and sophisticated customer dialogue suggests that they will play an increasingly important role in the future.