Your Company’s Outdated Chatbots are Probably Doing More Harm Than Good
As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series—a collection of articles written by industry thought leaders in maturing software categories—David Greenberg, the CMO at Conversica, outlines how outdated chatbots can do more harm than good for your business.
Today’s companies face a problem. Consumers expect more and more of a personal touch in their brand interactions. Yet, the traditional one-rep-to-one-customer approach to growth isn’t scalable. As technology has created the ability to cast a wider net, pulling in more and more leads, it’s not possible to maintain a staff large enough to deliver the expected quality of experience through the entire sales funnel.
Many business leaders may feel that technology is failing them at a time when, more than ever, they need it to deliver a competitive edge. The traditional, one-way automated engagement methods leveraged over the last two decades to scale are now ineffective for a consumer audience that expects to be treated like a human being and get immediate responses.
Even technologies that were cutting edge just a few years have not risen to the occasion and have not innovated to support the business. Take, for instance, the usual outdated chatbots you encounter on most websites. These are typically ‘rule-based,’ which means they do not learn or adapt based on new data and function only on the guidelines provided by their initial programming. They were revolutionary two decades ago, but when you put them up against the experience of current Natural Language Processing-powered technology, they feel like using dial-up in a 5G world. Yet, companies persist in entrusting their customer relationships to them.
To remain competitive, companies must harness the next wave of technologies and move away from their outdated chatbots. Let’s consider four things that make traditional chatbots yesterday’s technology and discuss how the latest advances in Conversational AI can bring businesses back up to the task of pleasing today’s consumers.
Outdated Chatbots Are Based on Technology That Is Behind the Curve
Most of us have crossed paths with a chat function on a website that was clearly a chatbot. What gave it away? If you didn’t ask a question, it was pre-programmed to answer; it provided information that may have been vaguely associated with your question but was, for all practical purposes, useless. This may have continued for a few interactions until it was clear that you weren’t getting anywhere, at which point it put you on hold while it connected you with a real person. In a consumer-focused era in which we expect instant results, the chatbot actually delayed your ability to get your needs met.
Fortunately, this rigid interaction doesn’t represent the current state of Conversational AI. Whereas old models matched specific pre-programmed answers to a narrow set of questions, newer models can adapt on the fly to understand intent, address entirely novel questions, and engage in a level of sophisticated conversation that has previously been limited to human-on-human interaction. Additionally, they can be trained on your company’s band-specific data, giving them an even better understanding of your clientele, products, and industry that allows them to respond with more flexibility and in a more human-like way.
As a result, this human-like chatbot, more appropriately termed a ‘revenue digital assistant’ because of its ability to contribute directly to the bottom line, can operate as a member of your team. It can carry on personalized, fluid, unscripted 2-way conversations that deliver the best possible experience while guiding the customer down the sales funnel.
‘Scaling’ Your Team Right Into a Bottleneck
In theory, the chatbots that support your sales and customer services teams are highly scalable—you can turn as many of them loose on your website as you need to handle the visitor load. In practicality, however, they’ll scale you right into a bottleneck. Once a chatbot encounters a question that falls outside the range of its scripted responses—it siphons the customer off to a human rep. Since this often happens early in the sales process, and because chatbots can do this much faster than a human could, they may send many more frustrated and confused customers to your service and sales reps than they can handle, creating a nightmare bottleneck scenario.
On the other hand, due to their more sophisticated Conversational AI capabilities, modern platforms can engage in productive conversations with website visitors at all stages of their customer journal. Because they’re assuming a larger portion of the interaction, they offer true scalability by helping more people and putting out more fires while freeing your human employees to spend more high-quality time with customers with more complex needs or who are closer to a sale.
Chatbots Are Limited to Certain Channels and Use Cases
Because chatbots are built on rudimentary computing models, they can only perform prescribed functions in particular circumstances. So they are typically limited to a single channel of communication, such as chat, and can only perform well if the website visitor is at the point in their customer journey for which they are optimized. Of course, this isn’t the reality of today’s customer experience, where people often engage with the same company through multiple touchpoints and at different stages in their customer journey.
If you rely on outdated chatbots, you may be forced to create a strategy designed to work around its shortcomings vs. one designed to give your target audience a great experience. For example, human employees may have to hyper-focus on specific channels or spend undue time and resources on a particular phase of the customer journey simply because it represents a blind spot or limit regarding chatbot capabilities.
Thanks to the use of much more advanced AI, however, today’s digital assistants can follow engagements with customers and leads through multiple channels, carrying on unscripted conversations that meet them where they are in their journey.
For example, a customer may initially visit a website in the research phase of their customer journey, where they engage in a conversation with a digital assistant, which provides well-informed answers to their questions and leads them to a contact form in which they volunteer their email. The customer then leaves the website to gather additional information and consider their purchase decision.
After an AI-optimized time interval, the digital assistant may email them with follow-up questions or information. Rather than the scripted, generalized follow-up email that characterizes the automated email campaigns most of us are used to, this email is tailored to the potential customer based on the substance of the initial conversation that took place via website chat. Consequently, they are much more likely to respond to the email, initiating the next phase of the interchange.
Within a few email exchanges, the digital assistant links to new information the potential customer finds useful. They then return to the website, re-engaging in additional productive two-way conversations with the digital assistant. This process continues, guiding the prospective customer through the sales funnel–to the final purchase and then into the ongoing customer retention phase.
They Don’t Generate Revenue
Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that revenue is only generated when you’re building your brand through positive customer interactions and educating your customers on your value proposition quickly while using your resources efficiently enough to maintain a healthy profit margin. The poor experience, lack of scalability, and limited scope of sales models that rely on outdated chatbots can add up to significant revenue loss.
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. Updated technology, implemented through the right strategy, can fix this. Using the latest digital assistant platform can create experiences that feel fully human, answering open-ended questions, meeting the customer where they’re at, and giving them what they need to take the next step.
By controlling and influencing a larger portion of the sales funnel, Conversational AI allows you to strategically engage customers and leads across all digital platforms and at all stages of their customer journey. Instead of creating a queue of frustrated customers for your human employees, they create an excellent customer experience in which questions are promptly and accurately answered, and the right information is offered at the right time.
When human employees are finally brought into the sales process, they work with happier, better-informed sales prospects. In providing this experience, you, in turn, build your brand and your bottom line with happy and satisfied customers.