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The Complete Beginner's Guide To Chatbots

When it comes to landing a new customer, your product is only half the battle — lead nurturing and customer service are just as important as what you're selling. What does good service entail? We know that personalized customer service nets excellent rewards, but modern customers aren't willing to sit on the phone or wait in line to access that level of service. That's where chatbots come in. With the rapid advancement of technology comes new ways of providing top-notch service to your consumer, regardless of your business industry. Even if you're not familiar with how chatbots work, there is a fair chance you have encountered a website with a chatbox. So let's jump in and discuss this powerful tool.

What are chatbots?

At its core, a chatbot is what it sounds like, a bot that chats. It is a messaging feature integrated into your website that mimics a human conversation or chat. The difference lies in the type of chatbot you use — rule-based vs. Artificial Intelligence — which determines your consumer's experience with the bot. Think of it as a digital assistant that assists anyone browsing your website. Your website's chatbot can analyze and determine the consumer's intent and provide relevant information and support that answers any questions they may have.

Guide To Chatbots

Chatbot examples

What kind of chatbots might you come across? The list is endless but let's cover a few:

  • Travel bot: Search for flights, hotels, or vacation packages and book a travel itinerary.
  • Newsbot: Covers and informs you of news stories happening around the world.
  • Customer support bot: Helps you get support on a site surrounding a product or service. Let's hypothetically say that you're shopping on an online retailer but wish to return an item. A chatbot might pop up to provide assistance and get you to the appropriate page.
  • Appointment bots: Helps you schedule appointments and can be found in the healthcare field or travel industry, among others.
  • Cinema bot: Purchase movie tickets, read reviews, look up showtimes.
  • Order and deliveries bot: Assists you with any issue that presents itself on food ordering platforms. Think of the chatbot found in Grubhub, Doordash, or Postmates/UberEats.

Why use a chatbot?

Remember how I mentioned earlier that people don't enjoy holding for a customer representative on the phone? Get this, "only 28% of customers call customer service as their first attempt to solve a problem"." Let that sink in. People are more likely to try to find the answer to their problem elsewhere before they call, so why not provide them with a tool that lets them get the help they need without having to resort to calling you in a moment of frustration? When it comes to the speed with which people live their lives and the amount of screen time they partake in every week, a chatbot serves their best interests: it helps them get to the root of their problem, gets them were and what they are looking for, takes away the hassle of long hold lines and lets them do things at their own pace — all from the tip of their fingers.

Here are some pros to using a chatbot:

  • Instant response: Solve simple customer service questions fast and reduce the burden on other customer service channels.
  • Organize and score leads: A chatbot can automatically file leads and alert your sales team to follow up.
  • Increase availability: Create a channel for people to get in touch with your organization at any time of the day.

Types of chatbots

Your messaging complexity is determined by the type of chatbot that you use. Two types of chatbots can be used: rules-based vs. AI-based chatbots.


A rule-based chatbot relies on the preset rules that you establish. This type of bot doesn't have much leeway and works by responding to what you tell it, more commonly known as commands. If it is not programmed to understand a particular inquiry from a consumer, it will not assist.

Rules-based chatbots often have difficulty detecting chat sentiment, so they can't tell if your customer is getting frustrated. Usually, when a rules-based chatbot isn't sure how to proceed, it will send an internal message to your customer support team so a human can take over the interaction. Rules-based chatbots can be good as the first line of contact or to answer simple questions. If your customer service isn't open at all hours, rules-based chatbots can help bridge the gap during your off times.

Artificial intelligence chatbots

An artificial intelligence chatbot has more capabilities and fewer limitations than a rule-based bot. Given that it is composed of an artificial brain, it has the power to learn from each conversation it holds with a consumer continuously. Aside from responding to a set of predetermined commands, it can analyze intent and provide a helpful answer.

Ultimately, think of rules-based as a chatbot created with a predesigned set of commands in place that need to be followed and used to trigger relevant support. On the other hand, think of Siri or Alexa when it comes to AI chatbots. These bots take part in machine learning and become more intelligent, more equipped with information, and can analyze, understand, and provide answers to nearly all kinds of questions.

Drawbacks to using chatbots

The artificial brain found in a robot remains artificial. There are many moving pieces and components that go into making a chatbot, especially an AI-based bot. A chatbot might not always be able to provide answers to questions consumers have. This might come down to issues in development or a lack of understanding on the bot's part; after all, it is a bot.

It's also worth noting that sometimes chatbots genuinely might not understand what a consumer is asking for. This might result in a version of the phrase we've all come to know so well: "I'm sorry, but I don't know that" or "I'm sorry, but I'm having a hard time understanding what you mean." The constant reiteration on the consumer's part might be enough to drive them mad. Of course, this ties back to how well-developed the chatbot is, but if there's no option to redirect the consumer to an actual human representative, they remain stuck in this cycle of unhelpfulness.

And while AI robots learn from every conversation they take part in, there's a point where the chatbot might start to engage and learn negative mannerisms and responses based on how the consumer communicates with it.

Here's a point-form list of some of the most significant drawbacks to using chatbots:

  • Not personalized: Although chatbot technology is evolving, many chatbots are still unable to personalize conversations naturally.
  • Communication issues: Depending on the words and sentiment used, a chatbot might have difficulty understanding what a customer is trying to say.
  • Constant maintenance: You'll constantly need to update your chatbot to make sure the information is accurate. Plus, as technology evolves, this is one more aspect of your communications plan that will need to be upgraded with each advancement.

Should you use a chatbot?

A well-executed and effective chatbot understands what is being asked by the consumer— either because it has an extensive set of rules or can learn from each customer interaction. A chatbot should also be exposed to a training period to analyze and familiarize itself with the correct answers. Here are some questions to ask internally at your organization before integrating a chatbot:

  • Do we have the technical expertise to enable a chatbot that works well?
  • Are we prepared to follow up with customers who need additional information that the chatbot can't provide?
  • Do we have the capability on staff to align our chatbot's tone with our overall corporate messaging?
  • Is the chatbot intended to solve a lead nurturing or customer support problem? If so, how will we measure if it's working?
  • Does our demographic feel comfortable communicating with a chatbot?
  • Does our demographic primarily access our website via desktop or mobile?

These questions aren't an exhaustive list, but they can help you get started thinking about how you will implement and maximize a chatbot within your organization. Creating a plan to measure and optimize your chatbot is essential to getting the most out of it.