Click onto many websites nowadays and in a few seconds a little box will likely have popped up on your screen asking you if you have any questions or would like to speak to a representative. Welcome to the new world order of chatbots.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is an application used to conduct online conversations, generally via text and usually on a business website.
Some chat windows are live chats; meaning that as soon as you send a message, it will pop-up on the phone or computer screen of a person sitting in the office who is available to respond to your queries.
Others are chatbots and thanks to the fantastic evolution of artificial intelligence (“AI”), it can actually be pretty hard to tell the difference.
When did chatbots enter the scene?
Given how smart modern-day chatbots are, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that they must be a relatively new technology but their existence, in fact, dates back to mid last century (1966) with the invention of Eliza.
Eliza was the first-ever chatbot but she wasn’t exactly smart. She just replied to a list of pre-programmed questions with standardised answers based on key-words and this didn’t really change for decades.
Despite their novelty and occasional usefulness, chatbots such as Microsoft Word’s virtual assistant, Clippit, and AOL’s SmarterChild and other voice assistants, didn’t catch on. It wasn’t until 2016 that people began to see and engage with them more regularly thanks to Facebook’s Chatbots for Messenger.
Like any new technology, the first generation of chatbots had teething problems with the vast majority of users finding them too basic to be able to answer their questions. But this didn’t stop them from taking off and fast forward four years, they’re being used by businesses worldwide as a key part of their customer service and customer acquisition strategies.
The pros of chatbots
The recent success of chatbots can be put down to three key factors:
- They’re cost-effective;
- They’re versatile; and
- People are spending more time online looking for more engagement opportunities.
In essence, chatbots are replacing employees during the early stages of the customer enquiry and customer service process.
Available 24/7, rain or shine, midnight or midday, chatbots don’t charge extra to work late hours or public holidays. They don’t take vacations and they don’t expect costly salary packages with extra parental leave or more super.
With a large proportion of initial enquiries going nowhere and many customer service questions answerable online, replacing people with chatbots at this early stage can makes sense when time is money.
Programmed by people for people, chatbots don’t need extensive training to get your brand’s tone right. The bot knows your tone from the outset and can apply it from day one. Whether you like to inject a little humour into your conversations, use emojis in your messages or prefer a more formal tone, a chatbot can accommodate.
What’s more, they can be customised depending on the service that you require and the budget you have to spend. Whether you want them to be basic or need them to be more complex, it’s possible.
People are spending more time online
Last but not least, people (i.e. your potential clients) are spending more time online and as a result, a large number are more likely to want to use a digital communication method rather than picking up the phone or heading into a branch unless they have to. Chatbots give them a sense of instant recognition and service.
The cons of chatbots
But what about the cons. Of course, chatbots aren’t perfect, and there are some cons to consider too.
- The fact that they can’t understand everyone;
- That they may not be able to answer all queries; and
- That they can become expensive the more complexity they have.
They can’t understand everyone
Although chatbots are now very sophisticated and are programmed to be able to read between the lines (including spelling and grammar mistakes), they still can’t understand everyone; especially if they are using broken English, have horrific spelling or just don’t know how to interact with the bot.
As a result, it is not uncommon for some people to get very frustrated when trying to communicate with the chatbot, which can be made worse when the chatbot can’t understand that they are getting frustrated. In this situation, the key is setting up your chatbot in such a way that allows users to speak with a real person (and at some point during the chat) or to call the office if they need or want to.
They can’t answer all queries
Despite AI helping more advanced chatbots to learn answers to commonly asked questions, they still can’t be expected to know everything. There’s always a chance that someone will have an extremely unique set of circumstances that are unexpected. As such, they may not be able to answer every query and this can lead to significant frustration and potentially brand and reputation damage.
They can become expensive
Of course, if you are trying to create an intelligent chatbot and are using a more complex system, then it’s important to note that they can become more expensive; and possibly more expensive than actually having a person on the ground.
At this point, it is up to the business to decide whether the benefits of the chatbot outweigh its cost.
What can you do to improve the success of your law firm’s chatbot?
Although there are cons to consider when implementing a chatbot into the communication strategy of your law firm, there are things that you can do to improve your chances of success.
Monitor your Q&A interactions
The key to setting up a chatbot and ensuring that it proves successful from the onset is being able to program it using data from your current Q&A interactions. Monitor your current chats, emails, phone calls and even your in-person meetings. Consider which conversations a chatbot could replace and write down all of the scenarios that come up regularly. These scenarios can then be used within the chatbot.
Update your chatbot regularly
Over time, you’ll be able to see what is working and what isn’t, so be sure to update your chatbot regularly to correct any faults and to make sure that it continues to provide your visitors with the right information.
Give your chatbot a personality
Your customers are more likely to have a positive experience with your chatbot if you give it a likable personality. People may be getting more used to speaking with robots but that doesn’t mean that they want to be spoken to in robotic language.
Keep the process conversational
Even if the purpose of your chatbot is to help with customer acquisition, try to keep the process conversational as overly pushy sales language can be incredibly off-putting.
Always provide a clear end to the conversation
At the end of each interaction, always ensure to program a clear end to the conversation, for example:
‘I can see you might have a case but please ring us on XXX to make sure’; or
‘I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like you have a case, but ring us on XXX, and we’ll double-check for you’.
Give users a way out
To ensure that you don’t miss out on business from people who either can’t or won’t talk to your chatbot, always give people a way out by programming in answers to visitors questions such as ‘what number can I call to speak to a person?’ or ‘who can I email my enquiry to?’
What to look for in a provider if you want a chatbot created
Choosing to add a chatbot to your law firm’s communications and digital marketing strategy can be a big decision, and so it’s only right that you want to make sure you have the right company on-board.
Here are three of the main things that you should focus on:
- Cost & value
- Customer support
At the end of the day, you need your chatbot to work and you need it to work well.
The easiest way to assess the performance of a chatbot agency is to look at their previous work. So, be sure to ask for case-studies/testimonials and don’t forget to check out chat-bots that they have created and which are in action on other sites.
Cost & value
The cost of a chatbot can vary tremendously but it’s important not to get too hung up on cost and forgetting that you are also paying for value. Consider (and analyze if possible) your potential return on investment but don’t forget to include set-up and maintenance costs in your calculations too.
Lastly, never underestimate the importance of good customer support. Remember how you feel if you get a bad Google review due to poor service.
If things do go wrong or you need tech help at short notice, then you need to make sure that you have a business by your side that is just as committed to your goals as you are.
About the Author
Robyn Clissold is the owner of Social Hive, a digital marketing service for small to medium-sized law firms. After working in the legal profession for 30 years, she realised there was no affordable entry-level digital service for law firms. She started her digital agency to give everyone the option to play in the online space.