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Companies use chat bots to cut costs

Is it time to look at one for your business?

IBM’s Watson chat bot is available for free, its subscription rates scaling up per number of user interactions per month.

IBM’s Watson chat bot is available for free, its subscription rates scaling up per number of user interactions per month.

Decades ago, the origins of the chat bot began with phone trees. Customers would call in, select the options that were appropriate to their needs, and be routed to someone trained to help with their specific problems.

This has only grown in the more than 30 years since then, and AI-based chat bots are on the rise as one of the best ways to interact with clients visiting their websites, greet them, take in data as to what their needs and concerns are, and not only corral them toward a human who can help them, but work to offer advice and solutions on their own.

A May 2017 study from Juniper Research, entitled “Chatbots: Retail, eCommerce & Healthcare 2017 – 2022” highlights how the health care and banking sectors are poised to benefit the most from this. The study forecasts cost savings of $8 billion per annum by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017. The study also illustrates how chat bots can save an average of just over four minutes per inquiry, amounting to a cost savings of 50 to 70 cents per interaction.

Juniper’s study also showed that while chat bots are less likely to successfully generate revenue than app-based bots, they could offer a ubiquitous service for mass messaging, forecasting predicting that chat bot-based text messages could exceed 100 billion by 2022.

Niraj Patel, Senior Vice President of Artificial Intelligence for DMI, a tech services company, said chat bots can be used to make a call center more scalable and extendible. “Bots are also available 24 hours a day, enabling companies and brands with limited support hours to expand to 24-hours, delivering on-demand customer support for consumers,” Patel said.

Niraj Patel

Niraj Patel.

Chat bots can be used to automate routine tasks such as updating a shipping address or checking on the status of a request, freeing up human staff to focus on more complex requests, he said.

“Bots will transform how people communicate with brands. Today, consumers live on their phones, and use them everywhere – on the train, waiting in line, waiting for a meeting to start,” said Patel. “Consumers want to use this time to communicate with a brand and quickly get answers to questions or resolve issues. Bots will provide scalability to respond to these growing number of requests. The challenge is to not only reach consumers through a brand’s website or mobile app, but on any communication channel where consumers happen to be, including text messaging, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc.”

MobileMonkey allows for easy, template-driven chat bot creation for your website.

MobileMonkey allows for easy, template-driven chat bot creation for your website.

For those of you looking to build and incorporate your own chat bot for your business’ needs, the tools are readily available, but require some tinkering for a perfect fit.

“The ‘mechanics’ of building a bot are not difficult. But building a bot that is engaging and that consumers want to use is key,” noted Patel. It takes time to align consumer needs with a brand’s personality to make a bot that is most engaging to consumers.

When it comes to creating and installing your own chat bot, there are a variety of both commercial and open-source chat programs that can be programmed into your website. Perhaps the best place to start is Mobile Monkey (www.mobilemonkey.com), which offers a free trial and has plans that scale to $49 a month for its Pro Plan and $179 a month for its Team Plan. IBM has also moved into the chat bot business, the company offering variants of its Watson artificial intelligence with information available at www.ibm.com/Watson/chatbot. The Watson-developed chat bots are available at a free pricing point, handling up to 10,000 calls per month for free. After users reach this monthly cap, the feature retails for $.0025 per call on the Standard Plan.

Chat bots aren’t a replacement for excellent human employees, nor are they meant to do the majority of day-to-day tasks, but they can be excellent gatekeepers, channeling traffic to where it needs to go and handling an increasing array of smaller tasks. Poke around, see what’s out there, and there may be something that frees up several of your employees from their daily grind to achieve something better.

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