Fast, efficient, a time saver: just some of the ways businesses are talking about chatbots. As part of a communications strategy, these tools can be indispensable for customer relations. But it’s not all plain sailing, so we’re going to delve a bit deeper into this latest technology trend and explore the very real possibility that chatbots might one day replace humans in the sales funnel.

Tell me more…

First things first, what is a chatbot? Well, there are two different types. You’ve got the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, the virtual assistants, and then there’s the live-in messaging apps, piggybacking off platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp. While one is arguably more ‘intelligent’ than the other, both offer immediate and real time guidance for users.

A half full philosophy

Let’s start on a positive note: chatbots offer customer service on a large scale. There’s no waiting around listening to hold music on a loop, no filling in forms, no bad-tempered customer service advisors; they’re just there, always, 24/7, no sleep necessary. In fact, it’s this sense of immediacy that has led people like Will Wiseman, chief strategy officer at PHD U.S, to predict, “chatbots will replace the search window.”

In a similar way to search windows, chatbots have inbuilt conversation pathways, and destination mapping means the user will always be directed to a solution or external source to continue their journey. With a closing CTA, businesses can even increase traffic to their landing pages. Win win, right?  

Back to reality

As with most technology, there are always limitations. While 29% of people prefer using chatbots for purchasing decisions, there is a very real danger that if they don’t make progress or find a resolution, they will see the company in question as cold and indifferent. According to Adweek, users prefer chatbots for basic questions, but 86% want the easy option to transfer to a live agent if the issue becomes too complex.

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What does this mean for businesses? Does there always have to be a human back-up option when implementing a chatbot service? Despite the ability to give chatbots natural, human-like language, the vast majority aren’t powered by AI and so are limited in their capabilities. There’s also the issue of adverse event planning; is it possible for businesses to plan for every adverse event without the need for human intervention? The reality is, probably not.

Make room for the future

Futurist, inventor and engineer at Google, Ray Kurzweil, foresees that chatbots will have human-level language abilities in ten years: “If you think you can have a meaningful conversation with a human, you’ll be able to have meaningful conversation with an AI in 2029.”

With all this in mind, it appears chatbots aren’t ready to replace humans just yet in the sales and customer service funnel. However, that shouldn’t stop businesses using them as a support tool to take the pressure off stretched sales teams. And, it pays to remember, not everyone likes to communicate in the same way; so, give your customers choice and create a consistent voice across your communication channels.

For more insight on how best to integrate tech like chatbots into your business, download our guide to conversational marketing, available now on The Knowledge.

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