Chatbots aren’t exactly a new phenomenon. They’ve been around for decades in one form or another. Yet the last couple years have ushered in a new wave of chatbots that take their functionality to all new levels.

Last year, Facebook launched its chatbot platform; since then, more than 11,000 bots have been added, meaning you now have the ability to connect with the more than 1 billion people who use the Facebook Messenger app every month.

If you’re a small-business owner interested in streamlining marketing or customer service, then using a chatbot is something that’s worth taking a closer look at.

Keep reading below to learn how to effectively use this powerful technology to grow your small business.

About Chatbots

So, what exactly are chatbots? And what’s all the fuss about?
Chat bots are simply computer programs designed to mimic a normal human conversation. They’re most often used over the Internet.

Most chatbots use a chat interface for communication.

They’re compatible with all the major chat message interfaces, including Facebook Messenger, Slack, and more. They can also be designed specifically for use with private chat or messaging services.

Chatbots are governed by a predetermined set of rules. The best of the best combine these rules with artificial intelligence.

In other words, these chatbots can actually relay complex information and make informed decisions instead of just spitting out the same information over and over again.

So what are chatbots used for? Typically, for businesses at least, they are used for functions such as customer service, generating new leads, and making the sales process easier.

However, new chatbots are being introduced all the time that help customers with all sorts of different problems.

Benefits of Chatbots

There’s a reason so many businesses, both large and small, have jumped on chatbot technology. And the reason is that chatbots bring about a variety of important benefits.

The most important benefits of chatbots for small businesses include:

  • Growing the Business – Chatbots enable small businesses without extensive resources to find new leads, convert customers, and provide better customer service.
  • Less Time/Less Money – Chatbots are an affordable means of providing a better customer experience. They don’t take time away from otherwise busy employees and don’t cost much money to use.
  • Cheap/Easy – Hiring a developer to build a basic bot is remarkably easy and affordable. Learn more about the chatbot development pricing offered by Letzgro, one of the industry leaders in this field.
  • Simple Interface – Chatbots are easy for customers to use. Design yours with a simple interface to make interaction a breeze.
  • Forefront of Technology – There’s no denying that they are going to be an online business standard in the next few years.

Incorporating them into your small business plan now ensures you’ll be at the forefront of this technology.

Despite their many benefits, chatbots aren’t without their fair share of problems. Yet many of these problems stem from the fact that the technology is still relatively new.

In other words, changes are always being made to improve chatbots.

The main issue small business owners want to look out for is sacrificing authenticity by using chatbots.

Rely too much on the technology, and you lose that face-to-face, person-to-person feeling of customer interactions.

For small businesses, building an authentic brand and creating solid relationships with your audience is beyond important. Don’t let your chatbot take away from that.

How to Use Chatbots for Your Small Business

You now know what chatbots are and how they benefit small businesses. But how do you actually use them?

The top ways to effectively use chatbots to grow your small business include:

1. Customer Resource – Chatbots are a lot smarter than most people assume. For example, they actually remember the information users tell them. They’re able to learn this information and use it to better help future users. Use it as a frontline customer resource, especially to field basic questions and concerns.

2. Simplify Sales – In addition to providing information, chatbots influence sales. The best bots automate the sales process to streamline it from start to finish. Use a bot to simplify sales on both ends of the equation, for the customer and your small business.

3. Influence Decisions – Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t have the resources to give every new customer one-on-one attention. That’s where chat bots come into the picture yet again. These bots can make recommendations for users based on a variety of data gathered from simple questions and previous interactions. Chatbots free up company time while providing a dynamic new form of 24/7 sales support.

4. Increase Engagement – Facebook has recently opened the gates to its Messenger platform. The changes allow businesses to use chatbots within this service. Not only does this help with improving customer service and boosting sales, it also directly correlates to increased customer engagement on this social media platform. Use a well-developed chatbot to drive new users to your small business social media accounts.

5. Streamline Payments – The latest and greatest chatbots use features that allow them to act as a streamlined payment system. Customers can actually pay for their products without ever leaving the chat interface. Bots that store payment details of regular customers make ordering new products or services as easy as a click of the button.

6. Answer Questions – Perhaps the easiest and most popular way to use a chatbot for your small business is to answer basic customer questions. A chatbot loaded with FAQs is often very effective at providing sufficient answers to customer queries, especially in fields that use a lot of specific jargon. Use a chatbot to weed out basic customer questions from the pack before directing customers to a live representative.

What’s Your Chatbot Strategy?

Chatbots are still a new technology (at least as far as being effective goes). Incorporate one into your small business plan to get a leg up on the competition.

I recommend starting with a basic customer service chatbot. Developing a standard “question, reply, question, reply” chatbot uploaded with the most common customer questions is cheap and easy.

It also frees up valuable employee time.

Test the waters with such a basic bot and build from there. The opportunities are literally endless when it comes to the new breed of bots for small businesses!

Matt Smith is the founder of Review Squirrel. He loves helping small business owners that want to start a website and grow their online business. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.