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Article 12 min read

Business chatbots: the ultimate guide to using chatbots in customer service

Chatbots are most successful when customer service leaders use them to empower agents giving live chat support. Learn how to foster agent-bot partnerships.

By Hannah Wren, Content Marketing Associate

Last updated February 21, 2024

Customers today use business chatbots to do everything from checking whether they have COVID-19 symptoms to finding the perfect lipstick colour.

Business use of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) is only going in one direction. Gartner predicts that 70% percent of customer interactions will involve emerging technology such as machine learning, live chat apps and mobile messaging by 2022 – a 15% increase from 2018.

Providing great chatbot support starts with understanding how business chatbots and agents can work together, and then picking the best live chat software based on your customers’ and Support team’s requirements.

  1. What is a chatbot?
  2. How does a chatbot work?
  3. Are chatbots going to steal customer service jobs?
  4. Chatbot business benefits
  5. Choosing the right bot

What is a business chatbot?

A chatbot is a scripted or self-learning AI tool programmed to converse with customers via an app, website or messaging channel in a way that mimics human conversation.

How does a chatbot work?

A chatbot uses predefined rules, natural language processing, machine learning or deep learning to interpret customers’ (or employees’) requests and provide responses.

Chatbots work best for live chat online where customers’ requirements are specific and clear.Features include:

  • A bot can work with a knowledge base to answer frequently asked questions by recommending relevant Help Centre articles. An airline service could deflect repetitive enquiries such as, ‘How do I change my ticket?’ with step-by-step instructions for the task.
  • With access to business and customer data, chatbots can deliver more contextual and personalised responses. If Mark wants to change his ticket to Hawaii, a bot can give him available flights on his new travel date and tell him that he’s eligible for a discount if he upgrades to first class.
  • Taking it a step further, an AI chatbot can help customers complete tasks interactively. Mark could point and click to book a window seat and purchase his upgraded ticket – all inside the conversation thread.

Are business chatbots going to steal customer service jobs?

Chatbots are most successful when customer service leaders use them in conjunction with agents and foster agent-machine partnerships. Humans will always be the secret sauce to a great customer experience.

Customers want to interact with real people, but they want these interactions to be meaningful. Low-stakes questions such as ‘How do I change my password?’ are tasks that customers prefer to resolve on demand via self-service with the help of a zendesk chat.

When bots take run-of-the-mill cases off a support team’s plate, agents can prioritise more engaging enquiries that require the human touch.

Chatbots can also start conversations on an agent’s behalf, capturing context such as a customer’s order number or city up front, before an agent takes over. This gives rise to easier visitor tracking and more proactive chat.

How Fintiba’s chatbot empowers agents

Fintiba offers online solutions for people who want to work or study in Germany. Agents are critical for resolving problems that require empathy, such as when a customer’s visa is declined.

Every conversation goes through Fintiba’s virtual agent before it gets to a human agent, taking pressure off Fintiba’s Support team.

For example, when live chat customers want to change their account phone number, they complete a form and attach a selfie for identification purposes inside Fintiba’s chatbot. This chat service means an agent can then take over with the process already started.

Fintiba’s chatbot solution, Solvemate, can route conversations to agents – complete with context and conversation history – because it integrates with Fintinba’s customer service software.

With Zendesk’s Bot APIs, businesses using our omni-channel customer support solution, Zendesk Support Suite, and our CRM platform, Sunshine Conversations, can build integrations with a variety of chatbot solutions to ensure that agents and bots work seamlessly together. Some of our chatbot partners include:

When chatbots augment – rather than replace – agents, it’s a better experience for everyone.

To learn more about how agents and chatbots can work together, read our blog.

Benefits of chatbots that go beyond efficiency and cost savings

Chatbots have benefits beyond ‘increasing efficiency’ and ‘cutting costs’ – that’s table stakes.
Here are a few ways in which humans can work in tandem with chatbots to solve key business challenges.

Challenge: Customers want a more convenient way to get live one-to-one help – 24/7

How a bot can help

Being constantly connected has increased customers’ desire for instant support. Customers today expect help as soon as they need it, on channels convenient for them.

In fact, Zendesk’s findings revealed that over 40% of customers consider 24/7 support, in real time, a top component of good customer experience. And a study by Accenture found that 83% of churned customers insist that better live customer service would have had an impact on their decision to switch providers.

If Sally’s lunch-delivery order is delayed, she can open a chat window to ask where her sushi is and get an update on her California roll in real time. If Rachel has lost her credit card, a virtual assistant can help her pause it over her bank’s mobile app, so she doesn’t have to worry about mysterious charges while she tries to find it.

In deploying a chatbot across customers’ preferred channels, businesses ensure that customers get seamless, always-on support.

Challenge: Customer requests are increasing and the business needs to scale quickly

How a bot can help

Forty-two per cent of customer service leaders expect customer requests to grow, yet only 36% can expand headcount. This gap represents a sweet spot where a chatbot can help.

42% of customer service leaders expect customer requests to grow, yet only 36% can expand headcount.

For instance:

  • As a small team, Spartan Race deployed Zendesk’s Answer Bot® to help its agents tackle spikes in customers’ requests during races – races are hard to staff because they take place at the weekend. Spartan Race has seen a 9.5% decrease in chat volume, extending its Support team’s live-chat availability by three hours every day from time savings.
  • As France’s national railway, SNCF needed to provide quick support to impatient passengers on the go using its new mobile app. However, it couldn’t employ another team of agents to deal with the influx of requests. Mindsay’s Zendesk integration enabled SNCF to take pressure off its overwhelmed agents and deploy a chatbot to help customers find travel itineraries, provide departure information and send alerts – leading to a 50% reduction in incoming support tickets.

Chatbots give support teams the ability to scale with less.

Challenge: The business is missing out on opportunities for conversion

How a bot can help

Customer service bots can boost conversions with smarter self-service.

A chatbot can enable customers to find answers for themselves outside a Help Centre, such as on a checkout page, with knowledge tailored to their context. For example:

  • Fifty-five per cent of online shoppers abandon a purchase because they can’t find an answer to a question quickly. Dollar Shave Club uses Answer Bot to welcome website visitors with Help Centre articles and answer questions that it can anticipate – before a customer abandons their basket.
  • Using Netomi’s Zendesk integration, Freshly deflects around 2,200 tickets every week. Its chatbot collects website visitors’ email addresses before they ask a question, which serves the dual purpose of capturing context for agents and capturing leads for marketing teams.
  • Wavy uses a chatbot to help with prospecting and lead generation. Botmind’s Zendesk integration made it easy to set up and increased conversion by 25%.

55% of online shoppers abandon a purchase because they can’t find an answer to a question quickly.

Taking it to the next level, chatbots can convert customers inside the messenger by providing opportunities for immediate action, with rich messaging types such as carousels, forms and pick lists – whether that’s making a hotel booking or purchasing a pair of shoes.

Chatbots can also automate cross-selling and upselling activities. With the right context, a bot can check whether Sam is eligible for a discount on a hotel room with a view or ask if he wants a pair of socks to match his new Nikes.

Four questions to consider when evaluating a customer service chatbot

Chatbots are relatively new to customer service, and companies are still working out how they fit within their broader support strategies. This makes it a challenge to find the right bot for your business.

Here are some questions to consider.

What problem would you like to solve – and what resources do you need to solve it?

To start with, a business will need to decide which use cases to automate based on the problem it wants to solve and its resources.

Companies wanting to automate simple, frequently asked questions often already have a solution that they can leverage – their knowledge base. FAQs are low-hanging fruit that work well with out-of-the-box solutions, like Answer Bot.

This type of AI-powered bot enables teams to get fast time to value, serving Help Centre articles across a variety of channels, from email to mobile SDKs to Slack, and capturing basic customer context along the way.

Some companies want to deflect more interactive or personalised requests, such as telling Kate how much data her iPhone used this month or recommending a new plan based on her data needs.

This requires more resources, including developers (and a bigger budget). They’ll also need a chatbot solution that integrates with their customer service software and other relevant systems.

Other businesses are looking for a highly customised chatbot that serves more engaging and actionable content or requires multi-step workflows (like giving Kate the ability to purchase a new phone pro plan inside the conversation thread). They’ll probably need in-house developers.

Rich chatbot experiences also require a powerful chatbot platform to provide the infrastructure.

Sunshine’s Conversation Extensions arms businesses with tools to build the kind of next-generation conversational experiences that enable customers to complete purchases, surveys, appointments, maps or multi-selections – within the messenger.

Which channels do you want to use – and which features will you need on these channels?

A business should optimise its chatbot for the way customers are going to use it.

Think about the channels that your customers engage with the most. Customers expect to get support over their preferred touch-points – whether they’re interacting with a human or a bot.

If your customers spend time on your website or mobile app, a bot might welcome them there – but that’s pretty basic stuff.

Research tells us that customers want to interact with brands on channels they use with friends or family. Messaging channels, like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter Direct Message, LINE, Apple Business Chat (which integrates with iMessage) or SMS, lend themselves to more convenient conversational experiences.

For instance, Plum, a Facebook Messenger chatbot (also available on the Plum app), sends users personalised savings advice. Or, Samsung Australia created a Twitter chatbot to give customers personalised TV recommendations.

Beyond channel breadth, a business should consider the features it will need on these channels.

  • Quick replies allow customers to find answers with a few clicks instead of having to type something in
  • Adding a call-to-action button increases click-through-rate by three times
  • Carousels result in 10 times higher engagement
  • In-chat conversion-to-purchase rate is 2.3 times higher compared to a website or mobile app

Sunshine Conversations enables a business to build once and deploy anywhere – in other words, deploy the same or best version of a rich bot experience across channels, even those with no native bot support.

What level of context will your chatbot need?

More context leads to better chatbots – and better-personalised conversations.

Using Ada’s Zendesk integration, Upwork deployed a chatbot that displays proactive CTAs tailored to what a user is trying to accomplish, such as CTAs based on which Help Centre article a user is viewing.

Upwork’s bot also has contextual metadata like a user’s name for personalised greetings and knows if a user is a client or a freelancer, tailoring quick replies accordingly. It also integrates with our Support Suite, so agents have the context they need to handle every escalated interaction effectively.

Beyond passing on relevant information to agents, bots can also pass on context to a CRM or other software to inform future interaction. This enables things such as:

  • Understanding that Rose has a necklace in her basket and sending a message to a marketing automation tool so that she receives better-targeted email offers
  • Knowing that IT buyer Bob signed up for a demo and qualifying him as a lead in a sales CRM

Bots can read context coming from a conversation itself too. With sentiment analysis, a virtual agent can understand when a customer is frustrated and react accordingly.

How will you manage conversations between chatbots and agents?

Businesses need tools both to deploy chatbot conversations at the front end and manage them at the back end.

This ensures that agents can understand the intent behind every conversation and streamline hand-offs between agents and chatbots.

With the help of triggers, automation and workflows, support teams can define engagement rules centrally, and track, manage and prioritise chatbot interactions at scale. This opens up possibilities such as automatically assigning:

  • A high priority to VIP customers so that a bot can route them to a live salesperson for help – with their conversation history
  • A repeatedly dissatisfied customer to a specialised customer support team – by looking at context, sentiment and intent

To control bot interaction effectively, a business will need to integrate its chatbot solution with its customer service software, for example, via our Bot APIs.

The Agent Workspace inside our Support Suite provides agents with a real-time, conversation-focused interface to manage conversations between agents and bots seamlessly.

Rephrase the conversation

AI is key to delivering the fast, convenient, personalised experiences expected by customers.

The question is no longer, ‘Should we use chatbots?’ so much as, ‘Where and how should we use chatbots?’ to serve our customers more efficiently.

When a business balances the power of virtual agents with that of human agents, it can create the kind of customer service chatbot that drives loyalty – and improves the bottom line

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