Artificial intelligence (AI), including machine learning and virtual assistants, is permeating the world of business. McKinsey & Company reports that early adopters of these technologies are 3.5 times more likely to anticipate a growing profit margin, and Forbes states that by the year 2022, a majority of AI products will be used to complete repetitive, consumer facing tasks. This allows your current staff to focus on more complex and unique situations.
One of the most recognizable forms of AI in business is chatbot technology. These customer service products simulate live conversation to automatically and immediately answer commonly asked questions, schedule appointments, and perform other customer service tasks in a wide variety of fields including healthcare and higher education. As this technology becomes more popular and effective, a variety of chatbot vendors have entered the field of competition. To ensure the lasting success of your chatbot partnership, you should fully understand your needs and the vendor’s capabilities to establish a sustainable partnership before you sign a contract.
Identifying Your Needs
Before beginning to search for a vendor, establish your expectations. Deductive reasoning is an effective approach; start with your objectives and work towards more specific use cases. Do some thorough research, and ask yourself the following questions.
What are my goals and objectives?
Chatbots can do more than customer service. Consider how your bot could improve the consumer experience, reduce business costs, and analyze data.
What capabilities does your chatbot need?
Take a look at each objective you have developed, and consider what your chatbot needs to achieve it. For example, if you are looking to automate business processes, you may want your bot to perform transactions, send reminders, and schedule appointments. Here are some more examples of how your objectives may translate into desired capabilities:
What level of customer service do you expect the bot to provide?
Consider the user’s objective: to get the correct answer. Your bot should be able to cater to your users’ conversation styles, expecting misspellings and vague follow up questions. These often problematic trends may be solved with query expansion (ability to predict questions) and context tracking (ability to remember previous questions) to make the conversation more natural and your users much happier.
Users will also ask complex questions that need to be addressed by a live-person. When this happens, they could be directed to live chat, asked to complete a ticket to notify your staff, or be given the appropriate contact information. Consider which of these options would be best for your business productivity and overall customer satisfaction.
Next, consider what happens when the user leaves the chat. Will they need to reference it again? Providing an option to download or email chat transcripts provides your customers easy access to the answers they needed. Remember, your chatbot is now a customer service employee and should be able to make communication more convenient for your consumers.
On what scale does your chatbot need to operate?
Think about the size of your business, your clients, your leads, and your expected growth. Your chatbot should be able to grow with you by accommodating the current and future scale of your business.
What is my budget?
Examine your annual budget and identify how much you can spend to implement and maintain the bot. These costs may vary depending on your business size, required capabilities, and amount of integrated content.
What can my team contribute?
Your team’s contribution may include both time and skill. The chatbot should ultimately save your team time, but you may need to make an investment up-front. How much time do you have to spare? And how soon do you need the bot up and running? Once the bot is live, how much time can your team dedicate to maintenance?
Also consider your team’s level of skill. Does anyone have knowledge of python or AI algorithms? Applying the bot to your webpage or social media may require this level of coding. If your team is not confident in this area, you will want a chatbot company with clear, easy, installation processes.
Choosing the Right Vendor
Identifying your own needs is a great start, but to be certain those needs are met, you need to ask the right questions of potential vendors.
What is the vendor’s customer service strategy?
You and your chatbot vendor could be partners for years. Ensure that any questions or concerns will be addressed in a timely, appropriate, and satisfactory manner.
What channels are available?
Chatbots can be implemented on a wide variety of platforms. They are often seen on websites but can also be integrated with social media, texting (SMS), email, and third party applications. Ask your potential vendors about each of the channels your consumers use. Your chatbot will be most effective if it can be implemented across all of them.
How does implementation work?
By this point, you should have a thorough understanding of the time, effort, and skill your team can contribute to the chatbot implementation. To ensure your skill set is a fit, ask if you will need to do any coding to launch the bot on your website. Some companies may provide a simple copy and paste line of code which will require minimal skill.
To address the amount of time and effort you will need to put forth, ask about the curation of the initial dataset. Some vendors may crawl your website and include each element in the chatbot's “brain” before you launch. Others may ask you to provide an initial dataset of questions and answers.
Prior to implementation ask the vendor to provide a documented phased implementation plan including the necessary deliverables, dates, and resources to successfully launch your chatbot. This should include details regarding the vendor's support model to address updates and maintenance, frequency of updating data sources, and strategies for resolving issues.
Ideally, your vendor should also share best practices on the management of the chatbot platform. Such practices include developing and escalating live chat teams, suggesting help topics, and integrating with 3rd party API.
Before launching, you may want to conduct a quality check. This may require detailed testing within the installed bot or a general review of questions and responses the bot provides within an administrative software. The best vendor for your company will make this process quick and easy for you and your team while demonstrating a quality result.
How will the bot be maintained?
Again, consider your employees’ time. Will your team handle all of the maintenance? Or will the company do most of the work?
If the company is doing most of the work, consider the quality of the answers. A vendor will not know your business as well as your team, but your customers will expect accurate responses. Make sure you know where the answers will come from (in some cases, this could be directly from your website) and whether you or the user will have the option to provide feedback when a response should be improved. Then, make sure the vendor will address this feedback.
A third maintenance consideration is time-sensitive information such as dates, deadlines, and events. Consumer feedback may help bring out-of-date responses to attention, but the user or a member of your team must first provide feedback. At this point, your users may have already seen the inaccurate response. One solution is a daily website crawl tracking changes to your information. Your vendor will be notified when an element changes, and that change can be implemented within 24 hours to limit or eliminate out-of-date responses.
You also want the ability to track the bot's behavior. Some vendors may provide dashboard reporting and analytics to demonstrate accuracy and intelligence over time. Make sure you know what measurements will be provided so you can effectively review your chatbot's performance.
What happens to the data?
Your bot will collect data which could provide valuable insights for your business. Ask your chatbot vendor if you will have access to this data both during and after your contract period. Remember that your bot will produce various types of data including end-user questions, categories and labels, and question answers. Each data type may have different ownership and access rights. The vendor may capture some analytics for you, but if you would like to do your own analysis, clarify, up-front, that the raw data will be available to you.
What security measures does the company have?
Your chatbot may be asked to handle confidential data including user identifiers, personal information, and payment processing.
To ensure data security, ask where the data is stored: in the cloud or on premises. Cloud storage is generally encrypted and highly protected. Storage on premises can also be secure, but ensure that the appropriate security measures have been taken. Ask about encryption, access, network security, back-up systems, and recovery. You’ll also want to consider if your chatbot data will be commingled with other client’s data. Ideally, your data should remain discrete.
Discuss the vendor’s security authorizations and ability to integrate with your security systems such as single-sign on portals. If you utilize such portals, ask the vendor if they can integrate with your existing system to abide by your security measures.
What is the pricing strategy?
You know your budget. To be able to stick to it you should understand how your chatbot vendor will charge for the service. Ask your vendor for a pricing breakdown which should include implementation and maintenance costs. Examine this closely and look for pricing transparency.
The vendor will charge a fee for implementation. Make sure you understand what this fee includes. Is there a software license fee? Will you be trained on a new software? If so, ask if the training is included in the implementation fee.
The maintenance costs will likely be a recurring, standardized price, but you should examine what is included. Your vendor will push updates to the bot and you may want more training. Will you be charged for this training? Also consider how each of your capabilities will be billed. SMS (texting) features, for example, may not have a fixed fee. Rather, they may be billed per message.
If the pricing breakdown provided was not transparent and there are hidden fees, you may want to consider a different vendor as more unexpected fees could pop up throughout your partnership.
Working with Your AI Company:
If you choose the right vendor for your chatbot service, you should have a life-long relationship which translates to effective communication with a larger number of consumers on a daily basis.
Your AI partnership should help your business keep up with technological evolution. Anticipate growth, development, and frequent updates from your vendor. Establish a point of contact and be receptive to the vendor’s ideas and progress.
Ultimately, you should select a chatbot company that will learn and grow with you to achieve your established goals and objectives and then reaches further to break the boundaries of the industry.