Building Better Chatbots: 7 Tips for Retailers to Improve the Overall CX
As more and more retail transactions move online, chatbots are becoming the sales associates of choice. When built effectively, these human stand-ins, made of software configured, programmed and embedded in apps, websites and SMS, can closely replicate and simulate human conversation, driving engagement and improving overall customer satisfaction.
On-call 24/7, 365 days a year with never a lateness or absence, chatbots are a reliable tool that can anticipate and respond to frequently asked questions (FAQs), routine products, SKUs, price or service inquiries, common complaints, and basic transactions like sales or returns. They can manage multiple, simultaneous transactions, maintain an even and pleasant tone, and adhere to the mantra, “the customer is always right” with ease.
Building an effective retail bot strategy requires a series of decisions that directly impact engagement and customer satisfaction. Aligning a chatbot with the brand personality is important for continuity, to influence the customer journey, and to ultimately accelerate sales. While anticipating FAQs is easy, predicting the many ways the questions are asked and crafting answers that address multiple audiences with various interests, language skills and intentions is far more of a colossal task.
To help guide retailers into developing successful chatbots, we’ve outlined seven factors to consider when planning and building the solution:
1. Define a clear objective.
Start with a clear understanding of what the bot should do mechanically and emotionally. In most cases, the objective will be to engage customers and prospects quickly and effectively to assist them in getting answers; finding merchandise in the right style, size or color; or solving a problem. Determine what you want customers interacting with your bot to think, feel and do. Then, configure the software accordingly.
2. Contextualize the role in CX strategy.
Bots play a role in the customer journey and in a tiered brand response plan. If a chatbot is your first line of interaction or defense, it will address the most obvious and frequently asked questions. Try to imagine what level of curiosity, angst, frustration or confusion customers might face. Plan to overcome the nightmare scenario. Shopping happens in the moment, so bake in a sense of urgency and factor in emotion as you determine tone and functionality. Plot the most likely use cases and take a hard-edged look at the content or website navigation that led a shopper to your bot.
Chatbots should introduce themselves up front and give customers insight on available functionality. Similarly, by giving instructions for interacting with the chatbot, customers can be guided to stay on track, ask the right questions, find what they're looking for, and be much happier with the experience.
3. Focus on brand alignment.
A chatbot is an extension of your brand. It should reflect brand values and your brand personality. A directive or authoritative brand will choose language, voices, tone and cadence to reinforce an authoritative posture. A breezy or friendly brand will do the same, making different choices to reflect its unique gestalt. Think about your store design, visual merchandising, advertising language and merchandise mix to guide you. You're competing with Alexa, so your language, tone, voice quality, phraseology and overall posture has to be on par and has to resonate with the targeted customer base.
4. Choose graphics purposefully.
Humans relate to other humans. On one hand, you want to create immediate recognition and interaction. On the other hand, you want to make it clear to customers that they're not talking or texting with an actual human being. Finding the right image is a branding and philosophical choice. If you have a character, spokesperson or branded human image, use it to identify your bot. Populating the chat window with a human face can signal bot functionality and spark more humane conversations.
5. Scope the FAQs.
To respond quickly you must decide on the number, type, tone, length and depth of questions and answers. Since most retailers know their 20 most-asked questions, it’s a good place to start — keeping in mind that there are probably three to four ways to ask and answer these same 20 questions.
Answers should be short, clear, factual and on-point. They can be links to other written, graphic, photographic, musical or video content. Key performance indicators for chatbots, like CSRs, should be one-click resolution and high customer satisfaction. The bot relationship should accelerate the customer journey and add to an appreciation of the brand and the shopping experience.
Carefully consider your “no answer” answer too; the response to unprogrammed or unusual questions reveals a retailer’s true understanding of its customer base. Replies to these anomalies can change the perception of your brand.
6. Plan the experience.
Is the friction of soliciting information or an email address better or worse than an anonymous session? Bots can capture data and be personalized. They can be programmed using purchase histories keyed to email addresses. But do these added steps enhance the experience, deepen the relationship or increase customer satisfaction? Most bot interactions are fleeting. In most cases, instant gratification leading to purchase ought to be the guiding light.
It’s OK to use your retail instincts. Assume customers will be talking face-to-face with a floor associate — that’s your bot in action. Think about the tone, word choice, cadence and presentation style that will mirror and/or resonate with your customer base. Imagine and role-play the conversation with the idea of finding the hiccups or sticking points. Plan on creating short, snappy, snackable responses that inform and educate. And make it easy to bail out for any and all reasons.
7. Choose the right voice.
Male, female, neutral, mechanical or cartoon-y voices trigger stored perceptions and emotions. Research suggests that male voices communicate authority, while female voices offer warmth and empathy. Choose carefully in line with the attitudes and expectations of your customers and the image of your brand.
Chatbots require as much retail brand and engagement planning as programming does. Bots can add to or subtract from the customer experience based on the choices merchants make. Therefore, it’s up to their creators to deliver a seamless and positive experience that encourages shoppers to keep coming back and helps drive desired business outcomes.
Raj Patil is CEO of Orion, a firm with 25 years of experience guiding its enterprise customers through digital transformation and automation projects such as chatbot development.