Conversational marketing – websites & chatbots
“Conversational marketing” is another one of those awful buzzwords the marketing industry comes up with to make a simple idea sound clever. In English, it means putting a chat function on your website. Before you start feeling let down, read about the advantages a chat function brings you or, better yet, use our chatbot demo to see the real thing.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is an automated system that answers questions submitted by visitors to your website. It simulates the responses of a human being. Chatbots mimic the conversations that would take place between humans, hence the phrase “conversational marketing”.
Most people have seen a chatbot even if they’ve never used one. Every time one of those windows pops up in your web browser saying “Can I help you?”, there’s a chatbot in the background controlling the conversation.
What’s the benefit of a chat function?
Despite the dodgy title, a chat function can be a great benefit to your website. It helps your site’s visitors, it helps your rankings and it helps your business.
Chatbots bring two-way communication.
A website (and most marketing) is generally one-way: information goes from the site to the visitor. It’s a lecture, not a conversation.
Sales are not one-way. They’re almost always two-way: information, question, answer, question, detail, and so on. If we want our websites to be better sales tools, we need to make them two-way too. The chat function adds two-way communications to your website. Visitors drive the conversation. They tell the website what they want to know. They cut through the pages of information that are irrelevant to them.
Whether the chat function is provided by a human or a bot, the end result is that visitors ask questions and receive answers.
A chatbot responds now, not later.
Drift describe conversational marketing as “now” not “later”. They’re the company most responsible for coining the phrase “conversational marketing” so they’ve got credibility in the field.
Chat functions give website visitors the answers the want immediately. They don’t have to wait for a callback. They don’t have to check for email responses. They don’t have to spend time reading a download. They don’t have to book an appointment. They ask. They get.
This is critical for many businesses. Buying cycles have got shorter. A Lead Connect survey quoted by numerous sources (Drift, Facebook, Salesforce, etc.) suggests that 78% business buy from the first company to respond.
What can you do to make sure your visitors get a fast response? That old “Contact Us” button won’t work. The chat function gives visitors the fast response some of them want.
Your chatbot simplifies complex tasks.
The world is more complex than it used to be. Very few of us sell simple products or services. There are always options and variations. This can make it hard for website visitors to understand what they’d pay for what they want or what product specification they need. So what can you do? You could limit your website to half the options, but then visitors would only get a partially accurate answer.
A chat function – an automated chatbot in particular – simplifies complex processes. It can ask the questions it needs answered and shield visitors from options that don’t apply to them. Complex pricing matrices can be navigated in just a few questions. Visitors can get 100% accurate prices.
Provide a website concierge.
Chatbots guide visitors to the most relevant parts of your website. Websites have got big since the advent of content marketing. Our sites have far more pages that any navigation system can handle. A chatbot can use a few questions to guide people to the right page in much the same way as they can guide people to the right price.
Reward returning visitors.
Most chat functions can distinguish between new visitors and returners. By linking their web history to your CRM system, you can make offers to returning visitors who haven’t yet done any business with you. It’s another way a chatbot turns pageviews into pounds.
Better interaction means a better search ranking.
Google wants to know that your website gives visitors the information they want. It wants to know they get value from interacting with your website. Using interactive tools like a chat function can only boost the positive signals going back to Google.
Inform your sales and service processes.
Your chat function – chatbot or live chat – passes information to your CRM system so your sales and service teams know the type of information customers are looking for and what they’ve already seen. This intelligence can reveal opportunities for up-selling and common post-sales issues.
Grow your influence.
Chatbots can grow those dreaded email subscription lists. Email is still one of the most powerful marketing technologies. It only falls over when we abuse it, spamming our victims with unwanted and irrelevant garbage. A chatbot can get visitors who are viewing one topic to sign-up to receive similar information. Visitors looking at our page on the TOWS and SWOT models, for example, could be asked if they want to get our regular explanations of other marketing and commercial models. Any page that explains one concept is a springboard you can use to email people explanations of related concepts.
A chatbot is your lead generation safety net.
Somebody reading our page on brand marketing might want all its wisdom wrapped up in a nice PDF. They can probably see that it’s available as a download but they might be reluctant to fill in the form. They might be happier conversing with a chatbot even though the information they’re being asked for is exactly the same. A different process can generate a different result even if the goal is the same.
Visitors might want something other than a PDF, of course. That’s why Bridget, our brand marketing bot, offers people more than a PDF on that page. It’s a level of flexibility you can’t acheive with download buttons.
The chatbot as a sleuth.
Depending on your chatbot provider, your chatbot can react to where your visitor has come from. How great would it be if a visitor went from VW to BMW, and the BMW site said “Do you want to know what makes a BMW better than a VW?” Or how about a site that offered Brummie Bob delivery discounts for customers in Birmingham? It’s a fine line between being customer-centric and cyber-stalking, but technology allows some fascinating options.
Chatbots reduce costs.
A chatbot works 24/7, 365 days a year and takes no salary. You can use a chatbot to answer simple questions and keep your more expensive human staff to deal with the more complicated ones.
Your business is more scalable with chatbots.
Chatbots are almost infinitely scalable. As service demands increase, you don’t have to keep adding extra staff. Chatbots on SME websites work so far below their capacity, they just absorb increases and spikes as they happen.
You can improve customer service.
Chatbots can improve your customer service rather than just replicate what has been offered by human staff. They don’t forget important questions. They don’t send the wrong document. They don’t need time to look up relevant information. They don’t have to consult a colleague. They don’t introduce a delay while they get their manager’s approval. Once you’ve told them what to do, they do it.
Chatbots open the door to extra sales.
Chatbots can become an important part of your marketing as well as your customer service. Most technical staff are uncomfortable ending a service call with a salesy question like “By the way, have you seen our…”? That’s no surprise. They’re not salespeople.
But it’s easy to make a chatbot ask the question automatically. And you can make sure the chatbot only asks questions that follow logically from the visitor’s original enquiry (it’ll only irritate them if you try to promote stationery to a visitor who was asking about computer software).
A chatbot and live chat.
We need to distinguish between the two halves of the chat function universe:
- Live chat is the facility that puts you into a text conversation with a human. Most chat providers let you manage numerous operators (people) segmented into different departments or areas of expertise. The best chat providers integrate with a CRM or service desk system.
- Chatbots provide automatic answers to the questions visitors ask.They require no human intervention at your end. The answers can provided by a script you develop or by the system’s artificial intelligence.
Live chat and chatbots can easily be combined. You might use a chatbot to understand what a visitor needs help with, then direct them to live chat so a human can deal with their enquiry. Or you might use a chatbot to deal with almost all your queries, resorting to human live chat only when the automated options are exhausted.
How does a chatbot work?
Chatbots work in one of two ways:
- They can be driven by artificial intelligence (AI). This type of chatbot uses Natural Language Processing (NLP), machine learning and semantic understanding to understand what the visitor is asking and to provide an appropriate answer.
- They can be driven by a script that asks specific questions and provides prepared answers to them.
How to build an epic chatbot.
Let’s pause for a reality check. Chatbots are just a technology. Although we love technology here at FBA, chatbots are still just a tool. If you don’t ask the right questions for your audience, if you don’t make the right suggestions, if you don’t present something relevant to your customers, chatbots are worse than useless. They’re intrusive.
Like all marketing technology, make sure you’ve got the underlying marketing sorted before you roll out the flashy gizmos. The purpose of a chatbot is to get customers to the results they’re seeking. A secondary result for you is to get a two-way conversation going with your website visitors instead of one-way browsing. But that’s really the same goal looked at from another angle. With that in mind…
It’s a great idea to:
- Make the chatbot context-sensitive so it only asks relevant questions. You’ll notice that our chatbot called Bridget only pops up on our brand marketing page and ‘she’ only asks questions about brand. Our demo chatbot, Dave, only works on the chatbot demo page. Never forget that chatbots interrupt your visitors when they’re on your website. You need to be as certain as possible that the interruption is a help not a hindrance.
- Make the questions easy to answer. If you’re asking for a number, let visitors choose a range on a scale. Keep typing to a minimum. A lot of visitors will be responding to your chatbot on a smartphone with a tiny keyboard.
- Limit questions to things you can answer. Yes grandma, we are teaching you to suck eggs. And yes, we are stating the bleeding obvious. But if you want to develop a chatbot that’s useful to your visitors you’ve got to have some answers, information or resources that will help them.
- Ensure consistency with suggested answers. Ask people to select their country, for exampe, instead of expecting them to type it. Typing invites inconsistency (“UK” or “United Kingdom”) and typos (“United Kindgom”).
- Keep questions to a minimum. Visitors drop out of long chatbot sessions just like they stop filling in long forms. If you’re booking a consultation appointment, for example, get the information you need to kick-start the meeting but leave most of the discussion to the consultant who’s going to take the call. Chatbots are good but humans respond best to humans.
- Include some personality in the comments that come back from the chatbot. If the visitor said they’re a big company, say “Wow, that’s big. Congratulations.” If they say they’re small or a start-up, say “We love start-ups. We’ve all been there.” Build some empathy.
- Direct people to your existing conversion pages rather than trying to convert them in the chatbot. So, for example, if you’re going to use your chatbot to promote a gated handbook, direct visitors to the existing page from which that gated handbook is available. Don’t try to replicate the web page and form in a chatbot. There are several reasons for this.
- Firstly, it’s much easier to manage and analyse your lead generation activities if content like a gated handbook is only available from one place. If you do want to analyse how people reached that page, you can use a tracking code to distinguish between people who got there from another webpage and other visitors who arrived from the chatbot.
- Secondly, most web forms tools have better verification and processing options than a chatbot. This is certainly true of Zoho Forms, Gravity Forms and HubSpot.
- Thirdly, forms tools usually have better integration options with different applications.
- And finally, standardising on one route to gated content imposes a level of consistency that helps visitors.
It’s wise to avoid:
- Vague questions like “How can I help you?” because, in all honesty, the answer to that question is “by buggering off.” It’s too general. You’re not showing any respect for what your visitors are actually doing on your site. If they’re on a page about pumps, ask them what they’re trying to pump, how much they need to pump, how far they need to pump it – anything that’s relevant.
- Artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning. The technology isn’t there yet. The idea of an NLP chatbot is that it’ll be smart enough to answer any question a visitor might pose. This is a worthy goal and we hope it’ll happen someday but it’s still got a way to go yet.
- Worries about the concept. Visitors who don’t like chatbots can ignore them. They’re common enough now that people don’t take offence when a chatbot does exist. And they’re phenomenally useful for the people who do want to use them.
What’s the best chatbot for SMEs?
There’s a big difference between the effectiveness, development and cost of AI and scripted chatbots.
|Advantages of an AI chatbot||Disadvantages of an AI chatbot|
|In theory, an AI chatbot answers any question.||It assumes the visitor knows what to ask. It assumes the visitor already has a broad understanding of what’s available on the website. That’s a dangerous assumption. For example, would people pose a question about chatbots on our website? They’re not mentioned on our menus so why would visitors think to ask about them?|
|An AI chatbot reduces service costs by automatically answering questions without human intervention.||AI chatbots have a habit of producing comical, incorrect or downright offensive answers. If you deployed it to improve your customer service, this would have the opposite effect.|
|A typical SME’s website won’t have enough traffic to help an AI chatbot learn. It’ll starve for experience.|
|AI chatbots expect visitors to type in their question. Many users prefer to tap a button to select a question. It’s quicker.|
|An AI chatbot can have an indefinite development process. You can’t be sure when it will have learnt enough to answer questions satisfactorily.|
|Advantages of a scripted chatbot||Disadvantages of a scripted chatbot|
|Scripted chatbots can be context sensitive. They can ask questions and present options that are specifically relevant to the page your website visitor is on.||The script needs tweaking every time you develop a new service or want to promote a new option.|
|You can drive people towards products/services or areas of your website based on the questions you present to them.||Scripted chatbots can only answer questions you’ve prepared. They don’t offer the free format “ask whatever you like” breadth of a chatbot with artificial intelligence.|
|A scripted chatbot reduces service costs by automatically answering common questions without human intervention.|
|Development is a finite process. You know the questions you want to present and the answers you want to deliver. Once the script is written, the project is complete.|
|Scripted chatbots work better for visitors who struggle with English. It might not be their first language. Or they may be dyslexic. Or there could be many other reasons why typing a question is not easy for them. Presenting questions they can tap is a more accessible option.|
What to look for in your chatbot provider?
We make no apologies for promoting the chat function available in Zoho SalesIQ which is itself part of the Zoho One integrated package. It’s unbeatable value when compared to Drift, Leadoo, HubSpot, ZenDesk et al. But whichever chat function provider you consider, there are baselines to consider:
- It needs to talk to your other systems. It should pass conversation summaries to your CRM system and maybe even get account information back. It should be a part of your service desk facility if you have one.
- It needs to provide live chat and chatbot functions. Live chat is common. Chatbots are more problematic because you need a development environment for your scripts.
How much does a chatbot cost?
Chatbot costs are divided into two parts.
- You need to buy the development platform, the tool that adds the functionality to your website.
- Drift, the company that popularised chatbots and “conversational marketing”, charges an eye-watering $400 per month for their facility. Leadoo costs €599 per month. That’s a struggle for any SME. And remember that both of these are just chatbot platforms.
- HubSpot make chatbots part of their Marketing Hub platform which starts at £42 per user per month and includes a few other marketing functions (but their good stuff is in the package that costs £655 per month). That’s beyond the reach of many SMEs too.
- Zoho, the platform we use, package chatbots as part of their SalesIQ application. This starts at £14 per user per month. But it’s even better value if you buy SalesIQ as part of Zoho One, a 40-application suite that includes SalesIQ, MarketingHub, CRM, accounts, webinar software and a host of other applications. This pushes the price to £35 per month per user – well within the reach for SMEs.
- Then you need to pay somebody to develop the chatbots that will help your visitors. We have a simple way of pricing this development: £45 per question. It doesn’t matter what the question is, each one costs £45. Some of them are really complicated and take a long time to develop, some of them are simpler or similar to other questions. Things tend to balance out over an entire chatbot project. By using a simple pricing system, you know how much a chatbot project is going to cost you before you commission it and, if you decide you want to change it midway, you know how much the extra questions are going to cost you. To give you an example of how this pricing model works in practice, our brand bot ‘Bridget’ would cost £585.