By Marie Johnson, Enlightened Digital
If you’ve yet to hear about chatbots, it’s likely that you haven’t read a piece of digital content, shopped online, or done your proper marketing technology research in the past couple years.
Chatbots or artificial intelligence (AI)-powered virtual assistants, have made a serious impact on the state of digital marketing. With the promise of better customer interactions, decreased demand on customer service reps, and improved conversion rates— what’s not to love? However, if you’re a B2B marketer, you might be a bit skeptical. Although there is a lot of hype around chatbots for the broad consumer population, there hasn’t been as much hype about their application in digital marketing.
If you’re a B2B marketer who’s yet to identify the significance for chatbots in your strategy, you’re in luck. Chatbots demonstrate the huge potential for B2B businesses, and their capabilities are expected to grow over the next few years. According to an article from Computerworld, chatbots are going to be, “one of the most relevant enterprise software trends in the next decade.”
So what are the benefits of chatbots within a B2B environment, and where can your businesses use them to get ahead? Keep reading to learn more.
Benefits of Using Chatbots in B2B Environment
Like other forms of automation, chatbots are seen as technologies that enable humans to focus on less repetitive, higher-value tasks. Chatbots can automate otherwise tedious tasks, like scheduling meetings or offering reminders. This allows employees to focus their attention on more creativity-driven or problem-solving-centered responsibilities. Research from the McKinsey Global Institute indicates up to 30 percent of time spent on sales-related activities can now be automated, thanks to AI-powered technologies like chatbots.
Many companies have realized the vast impact that chatbots can have on sales efficiencies, whether it be growing leads, reducing administrative tasks, or shortening sales cycles. In turn, sales professionals can spend more time engaging directly with leads instead of dealing with behind-the-scenes work. Chatbots optimize the time and work required to foster customer connections.
Provide New Channel Opportunities
Historically, B2B marketing has been somewhat limited and difficult to execute across different sales channels outside your own website. Facebook, for example, was primarily meant for consumers and B2C organizations. However, it doesn’t make sense to avoid Facebook— everyone uses it, whether it be your friends and family, or a C-suite executive. Deploying a chatbot via a social media platform like Facebook can help you move into sales channels that, as a B2B marketer, you might have otherwise overlooked. According to research from ComScore, since Facebook deployed the use of chatbots, B2B professionals use Facebook more than any other social channel.
As Ernest Cu, CEO from Globe Telecom, who uses Facebook’s chatbot feature states, “Putting customers first has always been our primary value. With Messenger, we can reach out to our customers at the heart of their digital lifestyle.” Chatbots allow B2B brands to connect with their consumers in new ways.
Facilitate Product Research
B2B sales can be a complex process. In the past, the B2B sales funnel was overly reliant on the sales representative. Consumers in the thick of the sales funnel needed to rely on face-to-face interaction in order to research the product before buying. However, due to the proliferation of the internet and peer-review sites, B2B customers today will progress through the majority of the decision-making process without ever engaging a sales representative. This is where chatbots can lend a helping hand.
Chatbots remove any sort of friction your leads might find when engaging in your sales process and can guide them through the sales funnel until a sales representative is necessary. One of the key benefits of chatbots is they know, through machine learning and AI, when to bring an actual human into the conversation with a consumer. This is what Roof Ai—a chatbot built for real estate agents that automates lead interactions and lead assignments via social media—aims to achieve. This chatbot makes recommendations for real estate listings to users, and once they gain interest, passes them on to the actual human agent managing the property.
The Chatbot Debate
Although chatbots provide immense benefits to B2B and B2C firms, they haven’t come without their degree of backlash. Forrester predicted the end of 2018 would bring “a community-based revolt against chatbots.” Many consumers fear chatbots have the power to eliminate the humanized feel of a customer service experience or become a bothersome element they have to endure when online. If the chatbot revolt has truly begun, Vivek Lakshman, VP of Products at Chatlets.ai, ensures marketers it is still “relatively insignificant” if anything.
At its current state, consumer sentiment indicates chatbots might not be so bad after all. A study conducted by Uberall reports that despite ambivalence about chatbots in general, 80 percent of people who have interacted with a chatbot says the experience was generally positive. Florian Huebner, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Uberall, states that “What this means for marketers is that once consumers actually try a branded chatbot, the experience can usually be worth it. It seems the challenging part is convincing them to adopt in the first place.”
At their core, chatbots are simply applications that perform a designated task; like any application, it can be good or bad at its function. It’s important for people to remember there are many nuances to consider when building a chatbot. Marketers must do a great deal of planning to ensure bots are designed to easily fit into the lives of consumers and are simple to interact.
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when designing and deploying your chatbot:
It has a specific and singular purpose
In a chatbot’s early stages, it’s essential you don’t aim for it to be a solution for everything. You should set clear expectations with users about what your chatbot can do and, more importantly, what it can’t do. Trying to cover as many solutions as possible can be confusing for your users. As a brand, you’ll find yourself facing escalated customer frustration as users ask for things the chatbot isn’t set up to handle. Take CNN for example, who launched a chatbot they claimed would answer questions about the news. Because of the breadth of possible questions, the chatbot often failed to understand what users were asking and didn’t provide the information they expected. Once your users understand the initial chatbot, then you can roll out more functions or features.
On the other hand, a company who ensured their chatbot had a clearly defined purpose is 1-800-Flowers. Both the company and its customers understand the chatbot is solely used to help users order flowers and other products available on the site. The mission is direct, clearly communicated, and created for a particular customer need.
It provides a personalized experience, without infringing on personal boundaries
When creating your chatbot, its characteristics, qualities, and attributes should emulate those of your best sales associate. A good sales associate remembers a customer’s previous conversations, purchases, and preferences. Your customers expect the same from a chatbot. This builds contextual understanding. Over time, chatbots can gradually learn information about who the user is and what they want.
However, this doesn’t mean your chatbot should ask the user to fill out a lengthy profile upfront. This can be quite onerous for users and also creates a barrier to adoption that might force the user to abandon the chatbot experience altogether. It’s difficult for most new users to justify investing their time and trust without getting a taste of the potential benefits. Marketers should be sure not to push the boundaries when using contextual profiling. Chatbots should not ask for personal information, like contacts, address book, or photos, unless it’s clearly relevant to the scenario. In addition, a chatbot should not attempt to harvest and exploit the user’s information; this will destroy any semblance of trust, both with the chatbot and the brand.
It can provide an instantaneous response, while also being personable
Today’s consumers are constantly on the go, so it’s likely they’ll be using a chatbot on a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet. In fact, 46 percent of consumers prefer to conduct the entire purchase process on a smartphone. They want valuable responses that arrive almost immediately. Engaging bot balances yes/no questions with effective natural language programming to make the conversation flow like a natural conversation, but it also does so at an efficient pace. In contrast, an ineffective chatbot solely uses binary-style questions. This can lead your users into “survey fatigue,” while also wasting the capabilities of the chatbot and leaving the user with a less-sophisticated image of your brand.
Most users who interact with your brand’s chatbot have grown familiar with and appreciate the brand experience on other channels and expect your chatbot’s tone to be consistent. Your chatbot should be viewed as an alternative brand ambassador, so don’t compromise on its personality and voice. At its core, a chatbot experience should be informative and enjoyable, so be sure your brand’s best qualities are reflected in your chatbot.
Though chatbots are used primarily as digital assistants and customer service agents today, it’s evident we’re only in the early stages of chatbot innovation. As Stefan Ritter from Ruum predicts, “As AI becomes more advanced and chatbots collect more data, bots will start to develop the ability to predict what a user’s next move might be, or what problem they may be experiencing, and act on it in real-time.”
It’s likely we will see the use of chatbots increase in the B2C and B2B markets. Chatbots have the power to change the way you interact with your customers and provide them a reliable way to connect with your business. They offer professionals from both styles of business immense advantages for a multitude of purposes, from customer service to productivity to sales. Chatbots have surpassed their initial hype and are proving to be a vital part of the ever-evolving customer experience. You can use chatbots to not only get ahead now but benefit your business in the long run as well.
Author Bio: Contributor to Enlightened Digital, UX Designer and technology writer from New York City. If I’m not writing my latest blog post in my kitchen, you’ll likely find me strolling through Central Park, cappuccino in hand.