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Chatbots 101: How (and When) to Use Bots for Your Business

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Chatbots are a hot topic in marketing, and for good reason. Chatbots have revolutionized how businesses interact with their customers—providing instant support for a fraction of the cost of a human customer service agent and enabling brands to engage more deeply with their target audiences. Here’s everything you need to know about what chatbots can do, and whether they make sense for your business.

What Are Chatbots?

A chatbot is automated messaging software that uses artificial intelligence or machine learning to simulate conversation with humans. Bots are programmed to understand and answer questions and even perform tasks.

For businesses, chatbots are a cost-effective alternative to phone-based customer service or live chat with a real employee. For customers, chatbots are a fast, effective way to get help with basic questions and tasks.

More and more businesses are using chatbots to interact with their customers, and consumers already used to chatting with Siri are increasingly expecting companies to offer "live chat" service via chatbot.

A Nielsen survey commissioned by Facebook in 2016 found that 53% of consumers are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly, and in a 2018 survey, 15% of consumers said they have used chatbots to communicate with a business in the last year.

When Should You Use a Chatbot?

If you have a business that does online sales and you tend to have a high volume of calls or emails to customer service for basic questions or tasks, a chatbot can help take care of those queries quickly, correctly, and cost-effectively, leaving your human customer service agents free to handle more complicated requests.

Common chatbot tasks include:

  • Reviewing company polices for shipping and returns
  • Placing or canceling an order
  • Tracking a delivery
  • Making or changing an appointment
  • Reminding customers of an appointment
  • Requesting feedback on a recent purchase

A study by Headliner Labs found that people are 3.5 times more likely to open a Facebook message than a marketing email, which makes chatbots a great way to contact customers proactively to give them valuable information and promotions or personal suggestions based on past chats or actions. A chatbot can even identify and qualify leads, then pass them on to your sales team.

Which Chatbot Platform Should You Use?

Chatbots can be used on a website, in an app, or on a social media platform. 

One of the most popular types of chatbot are Facebook Messenger bots, which can be used to hold conversations in Facebook Messenger. An estimated 52 million businesses are using Facebook Messenger, and people exchange 8 billion messages with businesses over Facebook Messenger every month. Facebook currently has 300,000 active Messenger bots—up 300% over last year.

You can develop a proprietary chatbot app, but if you have a Facebook business page and already use Facebook Messenger to converse with your customers, a Facebook Messenger bot can automate the process, saving you time and money.

How to Create A Customized Chatbot for Your Business

You can always hire a professional to create your bots, but several applications make it fairly easy to do it yourself, sometimes within minutes.

Bot-Builders for Facebook Messenger

  • ManyChat is a simple bot-builder for Facebook Messenger, offering a free basic plan with limited features and ManyChat branding. Paid plans with no branding messages and additional features start at $10 per month.
  • Chatfuel offers an intuitive interface that enables you to create a custom chatbot for Facebook Messenger. Creating a basic chatbot with “Powered by Chatfuel” branding is free for up to 5,000 subscribers. Some more advanced tools are only available in a Chatfuel Pro account, which starts at $15 per month.

Bot-Builders for Multiple Platforms

  • Botsify uses a drag and drop template to create a chatbot for Facebook Messenger or a website. Botsify offers a free 14-day trial with unlimited chatbots. To keep using your created bots after the trial period, you’ll need to sign for the $50/month Pro plan.
  • Flow XO offers templates to enable you to build a bot for multiple platforms. Flow XO has a free plan that includes up to 5 bots and 500 chat interactions; paid plans start at $19/month.