Paul Mercina, Director of Product Management, Park Place Technologies, discusses the growing use and increasing benefits of deploying chatbots to solve business issues
Many of us think about chatbots in reference to sales. Today, home page windows asking “How can I help you?” are nearly ubiquitous, and Facebook Messenger bots are all the rage. Despite some initial reluctance to use chatbots for business-to-business encounters, these AI systems are now on the front lines of B2B marketing, engaging customers and steering them toward best fit products and services.
Chatbot-driven sales tactics are proving effective, but they represent only a fraction of potential use cases for this technology. In addition to boosting top-line revenues, chatbots can reduce overhead and expand margins. As we all become accustomed to addressing digital assistants in our day-to-day lives, even the most sophisticated audiences will welcome AI-based interactions in all kinds of venues.
Some B2B Use Cases for Chatbots
“Siri for Sales Staff”
Customer-facing chatbots are well known, but there are also opportunities to use chatbots to enhance sales efficiency. Such digital tools can help sales representatives navigate a company’s CRM system more effectively and mine data for the best leads and current follow-u opportunities.
What’s more, chatbots can accelerate sales response. A first email from a customer, for example, will often take a predictable form. Chatbots can handle standard replies, such as offering to set up a call. This frees sales representative to focus on more personalized engagement.
When it comes to 24/7 customer service, chatbots can be extremely valuable. Turning over routine, FAQ-oriented inquiries to AI is an obvious cost-saving measure and can help relieve staffing issues for difficult-to-fill overnight shifts.
Even when most interactions will lead to a human agent eventually, an initial chatbot exchange can slash average handle times while improving customer satisfaction. The chatbot can contribute by asking questions to help document the concern and then pulling relevant information to facilitate a rapid, accurate solution when a human comes on the line.
If chatbots can help external customers, why not internal ones? Employees in nearly every industry are armed to the teeth with technology, and any system can present challenges. Employees may not remember how to perform a rarely used function on a CNC machine, or a desktop application may malfunction.
Chatbots offer a vast improvement over sifting through manuals. A natural language question can automatically return the right instructions. And in a troubleshooting situation, a chatbot can help an employee create an informative ticket, which can, in turn, speed IT’s time-to-resolution.
As enterprises strive to reduce IT-as-overhead in favor of strategic IT investments—not to mention deal with the ongoing IT talent gap—chatbots can help stretch IT resources further.
Speaking of the IT talent gap, chatbots have also become central components of many companies’ recruitment strategies. At a time when top candidates will be off the market within days, enterprises are seeking ways to accelerate time-to-hire, as well as reduce points of friction that send prospects scurrying away.
One of the biggest barriers is often the application. More and more candidates are applying for jobs using mobile phones, yet lengthy applications are difficult to fill out by thumb. Chatbots offer a mobile-friendly, conversational alternative for collecting information and increasing application volumes.
From there, chatbots can be used to update candidates on their status, facilitate permissions for background checks, and empower candidates with various self-service options, even if that means working with a chatbot at 1 AM to schedule an interview for the following day.
Recruitment is only one of the human resources functions being taken on by chatbots. Various administrative tasks, such as vacation scheduling, are good candidates for chatbot assistance.
Chatbots can help answer frequently asked employee questions about reimbursement policies, paycheck details, benefits offerings, personnel forms, and so on.
Some companies are even using chatbots to garner employee feedback, checking in with employees to ask how well a particular process worked or whether they are feeling energized and engaged or drained and uninterested. Feedback can be logged anonymously, as appropriate, and provide HR leaders a window into employee satisfaction, productivity, and the effectiveness of internal structures and tools.
How to Innovate with Chatbots
From sales and marketing to help desk and HR, chatbots offer significant opportunity to expand margins. But not all chatbot initiatives are successful. Following are basic tips for selecting and implementing an effective chatbot.
Understand the Capabilities
First, be clear-eyed about what chatbots do well, such as:
• Delivering short, concise messaging
• Engaging users in two-way communication that “feels natural”
• Supplying an instant response, regardless of time of day
• Answering common but still relatively simple questions
• Collecting discrete pieces of information
Chatbots most commonly fail because of poor use case selection. It’s unrealistic to expect a chatbot to deliver the same content detail as a long marketing email, for instance, and chatbots are not yet sophisticated enough to take on all customer service inquires. But focusing on quick tasks, like scheduling clients for a webinar, falls right in the chatbot wheelhouse.
Probe Possible Applications
If chatbots are a tool like a hammer, effective solutions will be ones targeting the nails within the enterprise. Before applying chatbots, it’s important to ask good questions. For example:
• Where can the welcoming, conversational appeal of a chatbot make a difference in customer interactions?
• Where could a confusing form be replaced with a chatbot exchange employees will find easier and more pleasant?
• How could certain administrative tasks be turned over to chatbots to reduce overhead?
• What information could be more effectively navigated and presented by a chatbot?
Probing in this manner will help enterprises home in on the use cases that can deliver the greatest return on investment.
Create the Right “Personality”
It’s important to consider where to put chatbots. Not everyone wants to have AI hanging around in the margins like an overeager car salesman. Being too clever can also turn off users. Gimmicky chatbots will often fail in a B2B scenario, where a well targeted, helpful bot can succeed.
To the extent that chatbots serve as a barrier, users are likely to resent them. Companies should be careful not to turn their chatbots into the 21st century version of the long and winding phone menu that never seems to connect to a live agent. Building a seamless handover protocol can help enterprises tap chatbots for basic inquiries and triage while still offering follow-on human service for customers or employees who need more personalized assistance.
Deliver the Data
There are many chatbot products on the market, so employing chatbots isn’t a terribly technical challenge. Nonetheless, you must feed your chatbot, and this can become a data management issue.
AI thrives on information. Customer service chatbots, for instance, may need weeks or months of agent-to-customer encounters to learn common inquiries and responses. It’s critical to consider in advance how a chatbot will be trained and make sure the data fueling the machine learning system is high-quality.
Chatbots are neither a panacea for every business problem nor an overhyped technology unworthy of further interest. These AI assistants are an effective tool that, when used properly, can enhance efficiency, reduce overhead, and boost the bottom line. And let’s face it, they are beginning to provide what so many of us seem to want these days—hope that we will never have to make a B2B voice call again.