Everyone’s feeling the squeeze on finances at the moment. Businesses have little choice but to pass on rising costs to consumers. Households are having to make tough decisions on how best to manage their money and where to cut back.  

Companies and organisations can’t do much about the wider economic problems, but they do have a responsibility to help the increasing numbers of customers worried about managing their bills. They also need strategies to ease the strain on call centre staff. Behold, the humble chatbot: an efficient way to deal with spikes in demand for customer service and give people the support they need.

Chatbots can assist thousands of people simultaneously. Available 24/7 they can provide instant responses, are scalable and are increasing in popularity with consumers. But sometimes experiences don’t live up to expectations – no one enjoys going round in circles with a bot that doesn’t understand. So, what are the key features for a successful chatbot in 2022, i.e. one that genuinely improves customer service?

  1. Build it where your customers are

It makes sense to build your chatbot in channels where people are already most active, for instance WhatsApp (2 billion users), Facebook Messenger (1.2 billion users) and other social media channels. And quite a few of them should already be comfortable talking to an automated service, with 67% of consumers worldwide interacting with a chatbot in the past 12 months.

  • Make it inclusive

Even today not enough is done to ensure chatbots meet accessibility standards. Designers need to think about font size, design, and colour contrast. Screen reading options should be included and all features should be fully accessible via a keyboard. New interactions, updates or other changes should be signposted by screen readers and with visual cues. Rich media should include alt text on images, closed captioning on audio and captions or audio descriptions on video. Out-of-the-box chatbot solutions should be customisable and fully tested for accessibility.

  • Be transparent and upfront

Customers need to know right from the start that they’re interacting with a chatbot not a human. They also need to know what tasks the chatbot can help them with, so they don’t waste their time. It’s simple to do: ‘Hi, I’m xxxbot, a chatbot that can help you with A, B and C. Would you like me to help you today?’. Giving your chatbot a name and even its own profile picture will help make it memorable, as well as reminding customers that they’re dealing with an automated service, not a human. And don’t forget to use clear and simple language that steers away from jargon.

  • Enable swift hand-off to a human if necessary

A good chatbot should be able to recognise when it can’t solve a problem and enable the customer to speak to a human instead, rather than sending them round in circles or providing the same customer service number they could have phoned in the first place. What customers really want is to be switched directly to a human customer support agent if the chatbot can’t help. That agent needs to have access to the previous chat, so the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves too much and feels like the agent is listening. This is the gold standard of chatbots.

  • Make it engaging and memorable

Tone of voice is critical in a chatbot; to succeed they need to be a friendly, engaging presence with a personality that resonates with the core brand. For businesses in areas like healthcare and B2B whose tone tends towards formality, chatbots are an excellent opportunity to show a friendlier face. If there’s not much to go on in the brand’s other channels, listening in to call centre staff or employees who are public facing is a good way to get to the ‘human’ edge of the brand. Remember that customers using chatbots will want to feel engaged, but also have a problem to solve, so they won’t want to spend too much time on idle chit-chat.

  • Ensure security

It goes without saying that customers expect chatbots to always keep their information safe and secure. The end-to-end encryption used by chat services like WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram ensures that no one else can see private messages between the chatbot and the recipient. It also enables the business to conform to GDPR. Chatbots need robust authentication and authorisation processes to ensure the identity of the person they’re interacting with. Data needs to be transferred using the HTTPS security protocol used for confidential communications.

  • Give it the ability to learn

State-of-the-art chatbots use machine learning and natural language programming (NLP). They can continuously gain knowledge, improve, and provide an increasingly personalised service. They can also recognise how people are feeling using sentiment analysis, which allows them to respond in a more empathetic, ‘human’ way, if for instance, they sense frustration or anxiety.

  • Use data to transform the customer experience

Chatbots are an excellent way of collecting first-hand data from customers willing to provide it in exchange for more personalised responses (though they should also be given the choice to opt out). This data not only enables the chatbot itself to improve as time goes on, it can also reveal insights that drive the creation of new products and services, not to mention help the business or organisation avoid expensive failures.

A well-designed chatbot helps customers carry out specific tasks quickly and easily, gives them the information they need and provides control over their experience. With practically limitless capacity it can reach every digitally connected customer and shines at dealing with critical issues which would otherwise overload demand on call centres. It can also capture vast amounts of data providing the insights and understanding to transform the future customer experience.  So next time your customers, or your call centre staff, need a helping hand, remember that a kindly chatbot might very well be the answer.

If you would like to talk to us about current business challenges and whether a chatbot could be the right solution, email makesomething@thebioagency.com