Chatbots and Customer Engagement: Now, Even the Smallest Businesses Can Benefit

Teresa
Teresa
Updated

For better or worse, we’re now living in an era where customer loyalty is mostly about convenience. If you can be the simplest to do business with, they’re likely to stick with you.

Nice…but not exactly loyal, is it?

I don’t know about your business, but for us it’s a struggle to connect with new clients given limited resources. We don’t have 24/7 customer service reps or people dedicated to sales, who can respond so I’m not diverted from work for existing clients.

Like you, I would imagine, we do the best we can with what we have, and prioritize active projects over new business. Which is not great for our project pipeline or finances. So how do these concerns factor into the topic of this article?

Consider situations like this…

Your website visitor isn’t sure about shipping, and doesn’t immediately see the info. Or, they’re wondering if you’re open to doing custom orders. A long-time customer can’t remember the name of the vendor you recommended, or how to log in to your membership portal. A potential client wonders which of your service offerings are best for her unique situation.

What will these visitors do? What are their next steps from here?

Computer and tablet on a desktop, both showing positive customer satisfaction rate increases.

Chatbots can increase customer satisfaction rates by 24%.

— reamaze.com

Scenarios like those above happen regularly on every website. In person, you’d notice the customer standing there. If you don’t, they’re more likely to let you know. On the web, you aren’t aware of just how often your site falls a little short for a visitor, and they need help – especially if they don’t reach out to you.

Your visitors might:

  • Use your contact form to send a message, then wait hours or even days for a reply.
  • Leave your website and buy from a competing site.
  • Choose a vendor that won’t work well for their situation.
  • Call your phone, if available and during business hours. Hopefully, you are staffed well enough that phone calls aren’t an issue.
  • Visit a local competitor, simply because that business provided what they needed, when they needed it.

While there’s no magic solution that will perfectly and instantly level the playing field against bigger competitors and solve every customer service issue your business could possibly have, there is a tool I’ve found surprisingly helpful: Chatbots.

Chatbots can save businesses up to 30% in customer support costs.

Chatbots Magazine

Accountant at her desk in the offices of a small business, happy because the company is saving money.

I’ve heard too many one-sided AI debates, so before we go any further, let’s clarify: I’m not suggesting you turn your business over to automatons (even if that might seem tempting some days). What I am suggesting is using AI to essentially multiply yourself to better serve customers — without significantly increasing your workload. Or your budget.

If you decide after reading this article that chatbots aren’t for you, you’ll at least have made an informed decision. I’ve tried to think of the questions I would have had if I hadn’t fallen into my chatbot platform sort of backwards. If something I haven’t answered comes to mind, please do leave a comment and I’ll address it.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a chatbot?

Here’s a dictionary definition:

chat·bot
noun | /CHatˌbät/

An application designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet. Typically used for practical purposes such as customer service, information retrieval, and simple transactional activities.

Larger companies have used chatbots for years, with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until recently that they became more available for smaller businesses.

Thanks to the rise of ChatGPT (which powers many chatbots), now even the smallest businesses on the tightest budgets have the option to augment human staff with a chatbot. And, chatbots are a lot more personable and responsive than in years past.

What can a chatbot do for me?

If you’re not at least curious about chatbots, I suppose you wouldn’t have clicked through after seeing the article title. In case you’re still on the fence, I get it. Let’s acknowledge that there are numerous instances of poorly done chatbots, as well as ridiculously expensive chatbots. But there are also simple solutions to address both those potential problems (I’ll cover them further down the page).

So instead of dwelling on the bad examples, I’d like to share the potential positives. It’s not at all unreasonable to expect even a simpler chatbot to act as a helpful assistant for:

  • Handling inquiries outside business hours, providing constant support without the need for human presence.
  • Engaging website visitors proactively, collecting contact information, or gauging interest in services/products even when you’re busy.
  • Answering frequently asked questions consistently, saving time otherwise spent on repetitive responses.
  • Providing instant responses to queries, enhancing customer experience, and preventing loss of interest during waiting periods.
  • Gathering customer feedback and interaction data for insights on service improvements or product demand.
  • Helping you more quickly see and improve places your content or user experience is less than ideal.
  • Assisting international customers in different languages, broadening the customer base without the need for multilingual staff.
  • Guiding customers through sales processes, providing information or recommendations, and facilitating transactions to enhance online sales.

A well-trained chatbot excels at handling the kinds of repetitive, mundane and time sensitive tasks that often suck away your days, keep your prospective customers waiting, or both. Having this kind of help enables you to save your time, energy and expertise for times it’s actually needed. More importantly, a good chatbot enhances customer service quality, and does so in an incredibly cost-effective manner.

So, how do you find the right chatbot? One that boosts customer service and engagement for your business? Part of the answer lies in what you add to it in the way of training, but there are some specific things to look for in a chatbot provider that ensure you start off with the right foundation.

What chatbot platform features are most helpful to smaller businesses?

If you’re the owner of a very small business and considering integrating a chatbot into your operations, you’ll want to prioritize features that offer high return on investment and minimal complexity.

These are key features to look for as you’re evaluating chatbot options:

  1. Ease of Integration: Choose a chatbot that can be easily integrated into your existing digital platforms (like your website, or linked from a social media profile) without the need for extensive technical knowledge.
  2. Pre-built Templates: Solutions that offer customizable conversation templates for common customer interactions can help reduce the time needed to train a chatbot from scratch. A downside of templates, however, is they’re very often not right for your business. Be sure about ease of customization before buying based on this feature.
  3. Natural Language Processing (NLP): While advanced, some user-friendly chatbots come equipped with NLP, allowing them to understand and respond to inquiries typed in natural, everyday language, making interactions more intuitive for customers.
  4. Scalability: As your business grows, your chatbot should be able to handle increased interactions without requiring a complete overhaul or causing significant downtime.
  5. Low Maintenance: A system that doesn’t require constant updates or monitoring, functioning reliably over time with minimal direct management.
  6. Data Analytics: Basic features for tracking customer interactions, frequently asked questions, and engagement levels, helping the business owner understand customer needs and preferences better.
  7. Compliance and Security: Ensure the chatbot meets data security standards to safeguard sensitive customer information, especially if transactions or personal data sharing are involved.
  8. Cost-Effectiveness: Consider the pricing structure. It should be affordable, with a clear understanding of any additional charges for extra features or scalability.

There are probably dozens of other features out there that we could get into, but again: As usually too-busy owners of very small businesses, we are looking for higher ROI and lower effort.

Aaaaannnnd…speaking of lower effort — that’s exactly how I fell into Chatbase chatbots. 🙃 Chatbase does tick most every box on the list above, but it misses the mark on data analytics. If my site was busier that would be a biggie. As it is now, I read the daily transcripts as they come in. That works well enough for me.

Customer using a website's chatbot to get step by step help.

Chatbots can assist in customer onboarding by providing step-by-step guidance and support.

Zendesk

Why I Chose Chatbase

I’ll be honest: At the time, I wasn’t even looking for a chatbot. Primarily because it hadn’t yet occurred to me that I could offload anything on the “What can a chatbot do for me?” list. Even if I had, I’d never imagined there could be a chatbot solution that wasn’t an expensive pain in the ass for a 1.25-person business to manage.

As a customer, I’ve encountered chatbots on big-budget sites that were poorly done. I figured, if it’s a challenge for them, what the heck would happen if I tried it?

A few months ago in a ChatGPT discussion forum I’m part of, group founder and AI enthusiast Jason West posted about Chatbase. He raved about how easy it was to set up, and how full-featured it is for the money. Jason posted a video showing how he’d set it up, and what it could do. By the end of the video I had a small list of ideas for putting chatbots to work on the AFV site.

Note that Jason’s video was made when Chatbase was offered via AppSumo. To get it now, go directly to Chatbase.

I didn’t shop around at all – just dove right in to Chatbase. You don’t have to do that. There are now dozens (at least) of other chatbot solutions. In fact, Jason was so taken by the idea that he bought and is growing his own platform – Fastbots.

Below I’ve outlined some of the chatbot features I appreciate, and explained why they’re useful for me. My direct experience is limited to Chatbase chatbots, but from what I’ve seen of Fastbots it should be very similar.

NLP FTW

NLP, or Natural Language Processing, enables computers to communicate with humans in ways we can more easily understand. Chatbase is powered by ChatGPT, which uses a specific model created by OpenAI that’s really good at this. It’s been trained on a lot of text so it can have more natural and smarter conversations with people.

When Chatbase uses ChatGPT, it’s utilizing this advanced NLP capability to make its chatbots better at understanding and engaging with users. So, ChatGPT is like a high-powered engine for NLP, making Chatbase chatbots more effective communicators.

Easy to Train (aka Customize)

Since I could train the chatbot on my content, and tweak its training at any time, I didn’t have to worry about the thing going rogue. Or, as they say in AI circles, having hallucinations. Also, there’s a base training prompt that allows you to set it up in a way that can shape your chatbot’s personality or limit it however you need to.

Ava, AFV's customer service chatbot.
Ava, AFV’s chatbot avatar

I’ve given our chatbot a name — Ava. I’ve trained her using specific pages on the AFV website, and told her that’s all she knows. She runs on ChatGPT, so clearly she does know more. But she’s working for me. If you try to get her to talk about something else she’ll just play dumb.

Not only can I feed in my website URLs, but I can use PDFs to train the chatbot, too. If you have product catalogues, user manuals, or other documents that are normally a chore to use, train a chatbot with them and all their info will be a quick question away.

Since the setting up Chatbase and Ava, I’ve gone back several times to add training material or tweak Ava’s settings. Initially, though, I only spent a few minutes setting it up and adjusting the apperance.

Quick Installation

There are two options for adding a Chatbase chatbot to your website: a chat bubble that sits quietly in the lower right corner, or an iframe chat window you can embed any place in your content. Either way, it’ll take five minutes, tops.

Copy the code snippet you want, paste it in to your website where you want it to appear, hit save, and you’re in business.

If you want detailed instructions, or someone to do it for you, you’ll find instructions for both following the end of this article.

Simplifies Complex Content

This is something I haven’t heard anyone else talk about doing, but I love how my chatbot can help people get what they need out of a complicated article or a long FAQ.

A couple months ago I wrote a big, hairy blog post about what a person should know before buying their first domain name. I created a new chatbot and trained it on that article, plus another related one on domain privacy. I embedded the chatbot window at the end of the article, and now Ava can field any questions readers may have after reading the epic piece.

Or, not reading it. Because you could probably just ask her to give you the highlights.

Easy to Monitor & Retrain

Every day I receive an e-mail with a PDF transcript of every chat during the previous 24 hours. I can also log in to Chatbase any time, and review my chatbots interactions, and revise them for future conversations.

English is the only language I speak and write fluently (I know, I know – typical American 🙃), so I don’t want to take on projects I’d need a translator for. If my situation were different, Ava would be a great translator. While preparing to write this article, I asked “¿Hablas español?” And she was like, oh, sure, yes! I am fluent in Spanish and AFV would totally love to design a bilingual website for you!

Fortunately, Chatbase lets me revise answers so Ava won’t steer people wrong the next time. I just hopped into the dashboard, found the conversation, and put in a better answer. And, I told her she was only allowed to apologize in other languages, then offer to switch to English.

Imagine An Assistant That Never Tires of Repetitive Questions

Any question people repeatedly call or e-mail to ask is a great task for a chatbot.

  • Do you accept PayPal/Amex/crypto/EBT/dirty socks?
  • Do you take my insurance?
  • How late are you open?
  • Where are you located?
  • How can I book an appointment with you?
  • Are dogs allowed?

I gave Ava our FAQ page, and I’ve also popped in to add other questions as they’ve come up. If you don’t have a FAQ on your website, you can type up questions and answers in a document and upload it in your chatbot’s Sources tab (shown below) on Chatbase.

Chatbase chatbot setup – Sources tab for adding training materials to train your custom chatbot

24/7 Lead Collection

Yes, we have a contact page with a form that goes straight to my inbox. But Chatbase’s lead collection puts the option in the context of a convo. Ava will suggest people get in touch and show them the form whenever she thinks it makes sense. Which is most every time 🙂

Every day I receive an e-mail containing any leads that came through the chatbot. This frequency works for me, but if you are looking for real-time notifications then Chatbase may not be a good option at this time.

Customizable Appearance

Chatbase’s options for customizing the chatbot’s appearance are pretty basic. But it’s so neutral a design that it looks good on our site even without the few tweaks I made. Here it is on our Site Care page.

Instant Subject Matter Expert

I haven’t taken anywhere near full advantage of Chatbase’s ability to train multiple bots, each as subject matter experts. But I do have a chatbot expert who can help people with anything related to our website care and management service. And, as mentioned above, I created another expert to help answer questions about domain names.

You can train your chatbot expert on anything you want them to know and share with your customers or prospects – even if it’s not on your website.

After I wrote the “What To Know Before Buying Your First Domain Name” article, I trained a new chatbot by adding the article to its sources. I also added some of the URLs I’d used as source or background material.

I did something similar before I added Ava to our Site Care page. She now knows everything about Site Care, plus has answers to questions about our company (which helps the build the trust that’s super important when someone is considering putting their business website in our hands).

Budget-Friendly Pricing

Most small businesses should find Chatbase’s Standard plan to be more than adequate. It’s currently priced between $3-3.50 US per day (depending on whether you subscribe annually or monthly). There’s also a Hobby plan that costs less than a third of the Standard plan, and a free limited version you can use to get a feel for Chatbase.

The plan I purchased via AppSumo is somewhere between Hobby and Standard in its features. It’s been more than adequate for my needs. For better or worse, this is not a high traffic site. Which means the chatbots aren’t overworked.

Why You Might Want to Choose Fastbots

Chatbase has worked out really well for me, and I’ve had no issues at all. But I sort of stumbled into it, unintentionally. Fastbots offers some things that Chatbase doesn’t – lower prices for custom domains, branding removal, larger data allowances, and the ability to import YouTube videos as sources. If those are important to you the choice is clearer.

The bigger potential sticking point is customer service. I’ve seen some complaints that it’s nonexistent at Chatbase. I’ve only ever needed their knowledgebase or chatbot support (both helpful enough), so I can’t speak about e-mail support. I haven’t used Fastbots myself, so I have no direct experience with their customer service, either.

People say good things about Fastbots in our ChatGPT user group. If a client wants me to add chatbots to their website, I’d use Fastbots because they’ve set up the system to enable me to help my clients with chatbots. As of now, I couldn’t do that with Chatbase.

Of course, between Chatbase and Fastbots, we’re only talking about two out of probably dozens of chatbot platforms you could explore.

Ready to Go Deeper Down the Chatbot Rabbit Hole?

I hope digging into the world of chatbots and understanding how they can boost customer service and engagement has sparked your interest. There’s certainly a lot to explore when it comes to AI, NLP and chatbots (although diving straight in like I did can work, too!).

Both Chatbase and Fastbots offer free plans, so you can test out their chatbots on your website.

If you decide to go for it and set up your own chatbot, I hope you’ll find it every bit as fascinating and helpful as I have. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts or answer any questions you might have – just leave a comment to start a convo.


How to Install a Chatbase Chatbot in your WordPress Website

Note: Until you’ve had the chance to train and refine your chatbot, you may want to avoid putting it on a page where it’s available for public use.

In Chatbase, go to Chatbots and click on the chatbot you want to use. You’ll see tabs for several options. Choose Embed on site, and an overlay will pop up offering you code for both a chat window (this is the code that starts with iframe) and a chat bubble. Choose one or the other and copy all of the code for that option, from the first ‘<‘ to the last ‘>’.

Which option to use is up to you. I prefer the chat bubble, because it’s accessible no matter where someone is on the page. But I’m sure there are instances where putting a chat window in a specific, more visible location on a page might be a good idea — a Contact page, perhaps.

After you’ve copied the code in Chatbase, switch to your WordPress site and go to the page where you’d like to add the chatbot. Open it in edit mode. Next, add a Custom HTML block and paste your chatbot code into the block.

After you’ve copied the code for either the chat bubble or chat window, open the page where you want to add the chatbot in editing mode. Then, (assuming you’re using WordPress) add a Custom HTML block and paste your chatbot code into the block.

If you’re using the iframe chat window, the window will be displayed at whatever point in the content you’ve placed the HTML block.

If you’re adding a chat bubble, it won’t matter where you place the HTML block — it’s not adding anything to that spot but a script. In other words, it won’t take up any space or be visible to your visitors. Still, I’d move it so that it’s the last block – just to get it out of the way of your actual content. The chat bubble will appear in the lower right corner regardless of where you’ve placed the HTML block, and the block itself will not occupy any space in your layout. Make sense?

Once you’re happy with wherever you’ve placed the HTML block and chatbot code, save your changes and boom! – you’ve got a chatbot.

If the thought of touching code terrifies you, I’m happy to take care of it for you, quickly, safely, and affordably. Visit our Quick Tasks page to send this task straight to my inbox now.

Note: I wanted specific chatbots on specific pages, but if you wanted to install the same chatbot throughout your entire site, you could use a plugin to add the chatbot’s code snippet to your site’s header or footer.