We really are living in the culture of now. When an individual wants an answer, a piece of information or just some entertainment, they want it at the tip of their fingertips and they want it now.

In recent years, this has been driven by tech such as apps and the ever-prevalent social media. The instant gratification of these platforms has made this behaviour entirely legitimate.

The simplicity of downloading games, music and videos from various app stores, right through to the direct engagement users can get with brands on social media, has meant that businesses and organisations need to remain agile and swift.

With more brands facilitating customer service queries through social media, the instant gratification has kicked in. Nearly three-quarters of those who engage with a brand on social media expect a response within 60 minutes.

However, this is not just a social media phenomenon. When someone is on our company website, engaged with our brand, if they need clarification or additional information, they want it now – or else they’re gone. A survey of nearly 6000 online consumers found that 57 per cent would use live chat.

For most organisations, being able to respond within the hour across your owned channels simply isn’t feasible. Of course, not responding can result in angry customers, or even shopping abandonment. Either way, lost opportunities.

Enter chatbots.

Chatbots are programs that enable businesses to give automated responses to customers and their audiences. Responding to keywords or commands, the bots reply with pre-authorised information. When done well, they provide a customer with detailed product or service knowledge, without human intervention.

Think of them as FAQ guides on steroids.

Most commonly, chatbots can be built into your website, stand-alone mobile apps or using existing applications like Facebook Messenger. They can be either rule based, responding to numbers or keywords like an interactive voice response (IVR) or the more complex artificial intelligence (AI) based technology.

Chatbots can be used to reduce churn, increase sales and even distribute content, all in a more meaningful and one-to-one manner.

While bots can be as simple or as complex as you want, well-built bots will provide outstanding private engagement with your audience. The most obvious benefit is that once set up (testing and monitoring aside), chatbots will be able to automate a level of customer engagement, which can significantly reduce cost and time when responding to customers.

Also, chatbots, which are bound by rules, will do this in a consistent manner.

There are plenty of examples of successful chatbots around, including GrowthBot by HubSpot and the ABC News chatbot. Your engagement with your audience is your most prized possession, so it’s understandable that it makes organisations anxious, and it's important to think of some key aspects before letting your chatbot loose:

  • Be thorough – a poorly built chatbot will do more harm than good and will be as useful as a poorly trained staff member.
  • Be human – just because it’s a bot doesn't mean it should sound robotic. This is especially key when integrating them with social apps like Messenger.
  • Be relevant – from set-up and as you evolve, use knowledge from existing customer touch points to make your chatbot up to date with what your audience is asking you.

Growthbot

Chatbots at this stage are by no means a replacement for customer engagement teams, but used correctly they can supplement those teams effectively.

Whether to reduce churn, increase sales or distribute content, they can be effectively integrated into existing digital strategies and help provide consistent and timely experiences.