The best way to examine the challenges, and to come up with some quick fixes that’ll get your chatbot back on track, is to break them down into bite-size chunks. Some are technical, some are pretty simple, and some may surprise you.
However, it’s always a good idea to get outside help to identify exactly where your chatbot challenges lie, and how to tackle them. While you can keep some aspects of it in-house, using an external expert agency with experience of creating integrated chatbot/IVR/AI systems will give you better results, a more user-friendly system, and greater overall savings. So how can a specialist help you overcome your chatbot challenges? Here’s a quick breakdown.
Cost is going to be your #1 challenge, especially if you’re trying to sell the idea of a chatbot to the Board of Directors. Regardless of the business benefits of integrating a chatbot into your current business model, there is still the matter of who pays for it. You can spend as little, or as much, as you want to, and take 3 possible routes.
1. Buy an ‘off-the-shelf’ ready solution, which is the simplest and cheapest route if you need a fairly generic chatbot. Some ready-made solutions allow you to try the chatbot out with the initial costs waivered for a set period of time. This allows you to see if it fits in with your business model, without impacting too heavily on your budget.
2. Use a self-service platform that allows you to create a chatbot using an existing framework (similar to services that let you build a website using a series of templates). If you want something bespoke but relatively cheap then this is the best option.
3. Bring in a specialist to build a chatbot from the ground up, which will result in a bespoke system that’s tailor-made to your business model and the type of end-user interactions you can expect.
A chatbot needs to have robust security from day one. Users have come to expect certain security protocols such as HTTPS and HTTP metadata (Transport Level Authentication) attached to any internet channel that makes use of their personal data. Anything less than a secure site and users will flat-out refuse to use your chatbot.
- Rule #1 – make sure your chatbot is using https protocol so that user information is protected.
- Proof of concept – before your chatbot goes live, thoroughly beta-test the security protocols in-house to make sure there are no chinks in your chatbot’s armour.
- Make sure people cannot piece together critical data about your company (such as account numbers) by asking your chatbot particular questions. Even a small data leak could give a hacker a route in.
- Establish where your chatbot’s data is going (such as to a Cloud) and that the platform is secure.
You need a chatbot that moves past the ‘gimmick’ tag many tech devices suffer from, and actually offers your users something they’ll want to interact with, whether that’s voice activated or text-based. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘almost human’ – users would rather interact with a chatbot that delivers good quality and relevant responses than one that’s overly friendly.
There are five key elements to getting people to use a bot:
- It needs to be useful
- It needs to be relatable
- It needs to be accurate
- It needs to be trustworthy
- It needs to be likeable
The fact that you can choose between two different key types of chatbots gives you a bargaining chip when you’re trying to convince other parties within your organisation that a chatbot is a smart, workable channel through which you can connect with your customers. While they may not be ready to take the leap and develop a VA chatbot just yet, reluctant parties may be more inclined to entertain the idea of a text-based chatbot instead, especially if you already have a strong digital footprint.
Voice Activated chatbots:
- Are more suitable for static use – if your user base needs a ‘go-to’ point or wants to integrate other IoT (Internet of Things) technology such as a home hub
- Have a greater ‘personality’ quota and are cross-generational in their appeal
- Are more expensive to develop and maintain
- Are ideal for mobile devices and information-specific responses such as online banking or financial information
- Utilise devices that your users are already familiar with (smartphones and tablets)
- Are cheaper to develop and maintain
There’s no point delivering an engaging, technologically advanced chatbot – if it doesn’t actually do anything! Your chatbot needs to have a USP to make it attractive to users, and top of the list is a chatbot that makes their lives easier in some way. That could be supplying them with instant access to personal data, giving them useful information that enriches their experience (or even makes their day better), or helps them in their work.
- Think carefully about who will be using your chatbot, and what they want
- Does it offer a USP?
- How is it better than other chatbots?
- Decide if you need a chatbot with specific features tailor-made to your target audience
The technical challenges of developing a chatbot can easily be overcome, but what is more difficult is ensuring your chatbot has someone to talk to once it’s out there. So before you commission a specialist to start working on the programming, make sure you have an audience that will want to interact with the finished result.
- Test the water first by using waivered cost chatbots that can show you how willing your audience is to interact with a chatbot.
- Carry out some demographic analytics of your current audience (especially if they are using other digital channels to interact with your business or organisation) through a quick questionnaire, online survey, or email marketing campaign.
- Making your audience feel included in the decision-making process will make them more likely to interact with your chatbot once you release it.
The technical aspects of building a chatbot will depend on what type of chatbot you want to develop. A purely texted-based bot will be much easier to develop than a voice activated version.
For any platform, there has to be a set process that the chatbot goes through, so it’s important to develop an ‘intelligent’ platform that:
- Finds out the goal of the user by asking a series of questions and responding to the answers in a coherent manner
- Collects user information that’s relevant
- Processes the data and converts it to provide a response to the user’s goal
- Stores the information in a database so that if the same query arises again, it can use the information to form a more accurate response (known as machine learning).
Building chatbots that integrate within a digital system (especially if it’s an integrated system that uses both online portals and IVR telephony) is a specialist area of expertise. The best option is to work with a specialist to create a bespoke system specially adapted to suit your business. There are services that offer use a platform template providing you with the base coding already in situ, and you build up your ‘bot using their tools. This is good if you want to get a chatbot up and running quickly, but it may have its limitations, especially if you want to develop a chatbot as part of an overall channel shift strategy.
- Work with a team that has the technical knowhow to develop chatbots with machine learning coding and Natural Language Processing software
- Use pre-existing platform templates to make it easier to build your chatbot, or get your experts to create bespoke chatbot templates that are specifically suited to your business model
- Call in specialist help if you’re developing a bespoke chatbot from the ground up.
Integrating chatbots into your existing digital channels should be fairly straightforward, especially if you and your audience are already familiar with instant messaging protocol. Networking a chatbot to other parts of your set-up should be a matter of embedding links to online content, ensuring there are no protocol conflicts between channels, and that there’s a clear route map to take users to the chatbot and back again.
- Get users to sign up for the chatbot service by signposting them to the service via other channels
- Get your developer to bug-check thoroughly before releasing the chatbot so that there are no coding or protocol conflicts
- Channel shift users towards the chatbot by using incentives such as priority responses, access to special codes that unlock exclusive deals, etc.
A brand identity that’s been developed over a long time is your biggest marketing tool. It’s how your customers recognise you, whether it’s for a business or a public-sector organisation. A chatbot needs to fit in with that identity, not conflict with it. So a chatbot cannot be developed in isolation by your external specialist – it needs to be a joint effort with your marketing department too, so that the chatbot represents your brand signature.
- If your brand identity is fun and light hearted, your chatbot should match that by being friendly, chatty, and personalised
- For a more business-orientated chatbot, refined, professional language is essential (with a complete absence of emojis!)
- VA chatbots – the voice you choose should be a representation of your business, which may determine whether you choose a male or female voice.
Chatbots are essentially self-supporting, so if you’ve incorporated machine learning protocols into your system then they should carry on evolving to meet your user demands. Data gathered by chatbots can be mined for information, allowing you to build up a picture of your typical user so that both the chatbot and other digital channels can be tweaked to provide a continually improved service. Unless things go wrong, a chatbot can be a key business developmental tool as well as a portal for user access.
- Ensure you have a rich analytics programme piggy-backed onto your chatbot so you can analyse the most common requests
- Incorporate machine learning protocol into the system so that the chatbot can develop to meet changing client demands
- Don’t be tempted to ‘over-egg the pudding’ by asking too much of your chatbot. Analysis of user interactions will tell you what your customers want from their contact with your chatbot, and what is superfluous to their needs.
Nothing is ever perfect, but by careful management and thoughtful construction at the front end, you can minimise potential problems later on. However, if things do go wrong, you’ll need a contingency plan, and the right people to put it into action.
- Ensure your IT team are up to date with the programming language and protocols your chatbot uses, and that your developers are on speed-dial!
- Make sure you have robust security measures in place so that a failure is not the result of a hack or virus
- Take on board feedback from your users – if your chatbot isn’t measuring up then react sooner rather than later to adapt the programming and make it more user-friendly.
One hurdle to the successful integration of a digital channel such as a chatbot is the idea that people would always rather talk to a human than a machine. This isn’t strictly true, and in a recent survey by HubSpot, 55% of consumers said they were interested in using a chatbot to interact with a business. Not convinced? Mindbrowser’s 2017 survey found that 95% of users believe the customer service aspect of business is going to be enhanced by chatbots. However, there’s always those cases when a chatbot simply cannot deal with a query to its conclusion, so ensure that there is always a human being that can take over if necessary.
- Always make sure there’s an option for your user to switch to a human operator
- Ask your development team to include a ‘back door’ that users can access if the chatbot interaction isn’t working for them
- Help users feel valued by providing them with vanity codes that can enable them to bypass automated telephony systems and go straight to a human operator
Chatbots are popular with consumers, with 48% of users asked in a HubSpot poll saying they would rather interact with a business through a chatbot than any other means of contact. But are all your users having the same experience? Analytics will tell you how many calls your chatbot is handling, the potential routes and outcomes, and whether you’re suffering a higher-than-average drop-out rate. But there’s nothing better than direct customer feedback, so:
- Poll your users and ask them directly how they’re finding their chatbot experience
- Take on board comments on how the chatbot could be improved, and, just as importantly, what you’re doing right
- Compare your chatbot channel to other digital contact points to see if there are other, more effective routes you could integrate into the chatbot protocol.
Technology moves at a frighteningly fast pace, so it’s important to avoid the perils of obsolescence by future-proofing your chatbot. Integrated A.I. is the next generation of communications, but it may not be the chatbot that hyper-evolves, but the hardware used by customers. If you’ve incorporated machine learning protocols into your chatbot then it should be able to keep pace with external technology advances. Make sure:
- You employ the very latest generation of Natural Language Processing software, and update it regularly
- Ask your developers to plan ahead for new platforms such as next-gen hardware
- Keep a close watch on chatbot development and if your chatbot is on a supported platform, ensure the provider issues regular updates.
Implementing a chatbot (especially if you opt for a text-based version) is incredibly easy. With supported platforms and even ‘try before you buy’ readymade options, even an SME can incorporate a friendly, accessible chatbot into their digital channels. The inclusion of chatbots into a business model provides users with a one-on-one contact point using technology they are already familiar and comfortable with. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either.
Like any digital integration, it has to be carefully planned, and take into account a number of external factors such as your audience demographic, your expectations, your brand identity, the expectations of your users, and your other digital channels. But if done well, chatbots can become the digital ‘face’ of your organisation, and encourage greater electronic interaction through a cost-effective, efficient, and user-friendly channel.