Chatbots are a small part of a rapidly developing area of the technology industry known as ‘conversational computing’.

“Conversational computing is a style of human-computer interaction where users have a conversation with a computer program via a text or voice chat. Conversational computing makes use of natural language processing and artificial intelligence”.

Voice search has been an important area to watch for SearchStar for several years. Our interest lies not only in staying abreast of tech changes, but to see what consumer behaviour changes follow and then how the advertising platforms adapt accordingly.

But beyond voice search the impact of conversational computing can increasingly be seen with rapid developments in text chat and chatbots. These development are presenting increasing opportunities for improving website conversion rates by intercepting and improving online customer journeys.

We’ve pulled together some useful information on chatbots to help you make up your own mind about the capabilities and opportunities now being presented.

Are Chatbots a Big Deal?

In a word - yes.

Despite the fact that 45% of consumers find chatbots annoying they are a rapidly growing technology. The chatbot market size is expected to reach at least $1.34 billion by 2024 with some predicting that over 85% of customer interactions will be powered by chatbots by 2020.

The biggest technology companies in the world think it’s an important area too. They’re investing billions of dollars in the race to become the leaders in the conversational computing field.

The key players at a global level (according to Forrester) are IBM, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Nuance, Oracle and Rulai. To give you an idea of the scale of the battle, look at the levels of money being invested in artificial intelligence (AI), the technology required to underpin the ‘conversation’.

Google acquired an AI company called DeepMind for £263 million in 2014. Microsoft bought five AI companies in 2018 alone. According to the PwC MoneyTree report, in Q3 2018 $2.7 billion was invested in AI deals - a record against any previous quarter.

Wait a sec. Exactly What Is A Chatbot?

A Chatbot is a computer program capable of having a text based conversation with a human. Basically, they interpret text that has been entered and return an associated text response.

In its most basic form, this may be a simple rules based mechanism, where specific keywords trigger one of a small set of predetermined responses. In its most advanced form, natural language processing and AI are used to provide a response specific to the query (but we’re still a long way away from any of these passing the Turing Test).

What Are The Benefits of a Chatbot?

As with most things related to technical automation, by using a Chatbot you are getting a computer to do repetitive, straightforward tasks in a faster and more efficient way than a human. That way you can get the following benefits:

1) Save time and money. Don’t pay for a sales rep to answer a frequently asked question such as “can I bring my dog with me?”. Get your chatbot to answer that and then pay your sales rep to concentrate on more valuable conversations.

2) Generate leads. A chatbot is an unobtrusive way to persuade a prospective customer to engage with your business (complementing other CTAs). Encourage prospects to share contact data and you can choose how best to follow up in your sales pipeline.

3) Proactively interrupt some user journeys. Through conversion optimisation research and analysis you should be able to identify specific points when it could be beneficial to interrupt the journey.

By displaying certain behaviour (spending too long on a page, viewing certain pages in a specific order) you can make assumptions and target those prospects with a message to engage them in a chat. Make sure you test and measure this.

4) Quickly navigate to a solution. You don’t need many combinations of different products, services and customer needs before a user journey can become quite complex for a human to interpret. But all of these combinations are predictable and only a few pieces of information will enable a chatbot to quickly determine the best answer. (See the Hipmunk example below).

5) Provide more engaging FAQs. You should know what the key questions/concerns your prospects typically have (i.e. what makes them hesitate before buying). By providing them with easily accessible and engaging FAQs you can allow them to find the appropriate answers to these concerns and you should see conversion rates improve as a result.

Think of this as adding a ‘reassurance widget’ to your website. We love the simple but effective “have a question?” solution our client Woolacombe Bay uses.

6) Out of hours (or peak time) support. Customers increasingly expect fast answers to questions. They aren’t willing to hang around until you’re next open, or during busy periods. They will however be willing to answer a few questions from a chatbot to steer them towards an answer.

Who are the providers?

You’ve probably seen the map that ChiefMartec produce each year, where they categorise all the logos of the currently available marketing technology platforms. It was up to 6,829 last year, many of them contain chatbot functionality of some sort.

So, to keep things simple here are 4 that we know a little about:.

Bold360. Sold as a powerful way to get the best from your sales agents, in our experience this tool actually works best when keeping wasteful customer questions away from sales agents entirely. Another thing we like is the flexible pricing model that has reasonable entry level pricing (on application).

LivePerson. Having been the market leader in 1-to-1 web chat software for a few years, LivePerson has naturally moved into chatbots too. This history means they’ve worked with the likes of IBM, RBS, Vodafone and apparently 18,000 other clients. They claim to have a chatbot solution for businesses of all sizes.

Intercom. This is built as a platform to engage prospects on site and then manage them all the way through the sales process. They pride themselves on working with more technically savvy, innovative businesses (and give discounts for startups).

Founded in 2011, Intercom are a fairly new company, but they’ve already grown to have over 30,000 paying customers. Plus, a free trial always makes a tool like this more accessible.

Salesforce. Salesforce is developing a variety of chatbot solutions under their ‘Einstein’ product name. They’ll continue to invest in it (voice assistant coming soon) so for anyone who already uses Salesforce as their CRM, it should be the first place to check whether they have the appropriate solution.

Can’t I Just Use a Facebook Messenger Bot?

In a word - yes.

There are over 300,000 bots on Messenger and they’re responsible for over 8 billion messages a day between customers and businesses. They’ve also been built within the Facebook Messenger platform.

Facebook even provides you with the ‘starter code’ to get you going and there are plenty of tutorials around that give you step by step instructions on how to do it. You can use Twitter too.

However, in our view the standalone tools give a more professional impression, allow better integration with other platforms and offer greater ownership of the data. But Chatfuel (a business designed specifically to help business build their own Messenger app) would argue otherwise.

If you haven’t seen what’s possible with a Messenger bot, take a look at this example from Hipmunk:

What next?

As with all conversion optmisation opportunities, you shouldn't now just go and add a chatbot to your website. There may be many other things that will have far greater impact on performance.

Instead, what you should do is spend time on research and analysis to identify where these opportunities are, then put in place a rigorous testing program. There’s a good chance a chatbot might just be part of this. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can improve the conversion rate of your website, please give us a call on 01225 58 38 38 or email