Small businesses: Tag bots as a tech trend to watch

To bot or not to bot?

Businesses owners must constantly be on the lookout for the next “big” thing, no matter how small their business may be. Today’s big idea sweeping the nation? Bots. Once the stuff of science fiction, bots have gone mainstream since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at April’s F8 developer conference that bots are poised to bring an exciting range of new functions to Facebook Messenger.

As Casey Newton wrote in The Verge:

“Facebook believes Messenger can become a primary channel for businesses to interact with their customers, replacing 1-800 numbers with a mix of artificial intelligence and human intervention. If they are embraced by the general public — which is still far from certain — bots could represent a major new channel for commerce, customer support, and possibly even media.”

Facebook Zuckerberg F8 Bots
Image: Facebook

Do bots offer big opportunities for SMBs?

The masses are in a frenzy over chatbot possibilities. Are bots the new 1-800 number? Will they replace apps? As a small business without a contact center, are they applicable to me?

Short answer: yes. You might be small, but your customers’ expectations are not. They likely fall into the 900 million people who use Facebook Messenger, so they’re going to be friendly with bots sooner than you think.

In the age of the digital-first consumer, no business can afford to fly under the tech radar.

 

While bots might or might not be here to stay, it’s important to understand what it could mean for your business. Here are five tips to make sure you stay ahead.

1. Take advantage of your social playground

As a savvy small brand, you probably have a home-grown social following with real fans: people who use, love, review and engage with your product or service. Facebook’s recent focus on bots is a huge validation for businesses looking to connect with customers on social. There’s a newfound spotlight on you — take advantage of new B2C opportunities on social media.

Be sure to optimize your presence with business tools made for Messenger.

2. Create a clear path for resolution

Mobility, the I-want-it-now culture, and bots are creating higher expectations for fast and easy service. Consumers expect a seamless experience and immediate help when they need it, which can be tough for a small team to handle. However, if you’ve been listening to your customers you should be able to limit the amount of interference needed.

Set up your digital presence to be self-serve and include FAQs and tips where needed. If you make things clear for your customers, they’ll never have to break their journey to contact you at all.

3. Bring your small business charm to the bot show

With the right balance of humans and bot-dom, brands can provide a more meaningful, intelligent experience for their customers in moments that matter most.

Small businesses basically invented charm, and a foray into digital land is no time to leave it behind.

When consumers reach out to a brand, they want it fast and easy, but they also want to feel heard and valued. That’s why they’re shopping small in the first place.

4. Know when to bot and when to not

Best-in-breed bots, as a first line of defense, can be great for productivity. Time-strapped SMBs can use bots to answer simple questions and send updates, freeing up time for the humans to take care of business. But there is a time and place for deflection. Large potential sales, angry customers and complicated orders will not be handled well with bots.

Let us not forget: No bot has learned emotional intelligence. That’s why it’s important to know when to use bots, and to be able to escalate to a human contact when a live person is needed.

5. Be sure to set expectations

Consumers want to message. Business Insider called messaging apps “the growth story of the decade.” But with messaging, comes a different set of expectations.

For example, when you message a friend they might get back to you immediately, or after their meeting, or the next day. And that’s fine because it’s what we’ve come to expect. When consumers communicate with a brand, particularly in Facebook’s new bot-enabled Messenger, it’s important to also establish these ground rules. What do people expect of your Facebook communications? It’s probably different than the response time expected of your ticketing or email system.

Be honest and include ETAs in your responses. Something as simple as “I’ll check on that and get back to you in an hour” can make all the difference.

Partnership between humans and bots

Facebook Messenger is no doubt a critical touch point for consumer-to-brand communications, and bots will certainly play a large role in the future of customer service. But experts warn we might be taking one step forward and two steps back. “Without a fine balance and partnership between automated and human-led assistance, messaging could lead to the same frustrating experiences caused by the dreaded IVR system,” says Rob LoCascio, founder of online engagement company LivePerson.

So whether you’re ready to jump head-first into botdom, or hoping to expertly survive the takeover, small businesses can find success by keeping the customer at the center of it all.

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Tom Byun
Tom Byun is currently General Manager and SVP of the Global Small Business division of LivePerson. He oversees all programs for acquisition, retention and growth of small business customers across US, EMEA and APAC. Prior to LivePerson, Tom was Vice President and General Manager of Yahoo! Small Business, where he focused on servicing small business customers and providing them with lead sources and tools to help them grow and manage their business online. Tom received his MBA from Harvard Business School.