This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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Chatbots, despite their futuristic name and sudden increase in popularity, have been around for quite some time. Granted, they weren’t always as advanced as they are today, but over the past few years have been implemented into customer service for a wide variety of businesses. Now, with advancements in machine learning for these bots, the possibilities are greater than ever before.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots are simply computer programs designed to respond to a message without requiring a person, and their complexity can range from simple to sophisticated.

Simple chatbots are rules-based. If you’ve ever been on a phone call and heard an automated voice tell you to “Press 1 for…” you’ve interacted with the simplest form of chatbot! You choose the right “answer” from a menu of choices. But today’s chatbots can recognize your typed (or spoken) inquiry and provide an answer on their own.

Even more complex chatbots use artificial intelligence to give a more realistic, human feel to the interaction. In fact, natural language processing (NLP), a form of artificial intelligence, can continually improve a chatbot’s conversations. Most chatbot interactions are saved to a private database for this purpose, and software analyzes a user’s communication and creates a command that the computer can understand and execute. So chatbots with NLP is are always learning, meaning they become continually become more effective as they interact with more people.

Where can they be used?

Virtual assistant: Chatbots in this form have been around for just a few years, and in that short timespan have been able to improve dramatically. Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are all prime examples of virtual assistant chatbots. Virtual assistants are most often used for personal tasks, such as checking sports scores, playing music, setting alarms, getting a weather forecast, etc.

Entertainment: Entertainment chatbots do not actually accomplish tasks, instead keeping you entertained for a few minutes while you make small talk with a computer. There are just a few chatbots being used for entertainment (Cleverbot is a good example of this), however — the majority of chatbots are being utilized for customer service purposes.

E-commerce: Chatbots have proven effective in helping reel in a potential buyer by providing interaction and information. Many online websites for retail and services feature chatbots able to guide the buyer in the direction of a sale. Bots can be programmed to try to engage the user by popping onto the screen with a question (“can I help you?”, “what product are you interested in today?”, etc.), and then can provide additional information or links to relevant products in an effort to get the sale.

Customer service: One of the biggest downfalls of human-to-human customer service is the wait time before you get an answer, especially in an age where people are more comfortable using online communication rather than calling. However, it’s impractical to have a person always waiting at a computer to respond to messages. To combat this, chatbots are implemented into the beginning of the customer service process. When the bots are contacted by a customer with an issue, the bot can provide help pages, contact information, and more.

How do you get a chatbot?

A variety of chatbot apps exist that can be customized to suit your business. Commonly used to handle customer service inquiries on a website, many of them will integrate with Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media and messaging apps, as well as with SMS and email. There is some time involved in setting up and maintaining the chatbot, but the simplest chatbot services can be installed for a modest monthly fee.

How can chatbots improve your business?

In 2016 the biggest four messaging apps surpassed the amount of users on the biggest four social media apps. People are clearly more and more comfortable with online messaging, and any business that can offer this capability has a strong advantage over its competitors.

Here are some of the biggest advantages to chatbots:

Speed: Today’s customers expect a real-time response, and chatbots are faster in just about all avenues. They can quickly process large amounts of data and do something with it, give quick answers to a customer’s complaint, and guide users to a better outcome.

Availability: A chatbot is able to respond to the customer instantly 24/7 with multiple avenues of help, regardless of whether the office is open or an employee is available.

Superior customer service: Many people are more willing to interact with a chatbot than any other form of communication. For example, a shopper on a website who can’t find a product they want is more likely to browse to another website than take the time to call or send an email — but a readily available chatbot makes asking a question easy and fast, so the customer is more inclined to stay with your site (and hopefully, complete a purchase).

Lower staffing costs: Chatbots can lower the costs associated with customer relations, since you don’t need to pay your computer a salary. Once the chatbot is designed and implemented, it will continue to work 24/7.

Multilingual capabilities: Many of the chatbot apps offer service in multiple languages, which can be an advantage for many kinds of businesses.

Lead generation: Chatbots can collect information from their users that enables you to retarget them with digital ads, or even contact them personally later.

Customer research: Over time, chatbot interactions can reveal a lot about your customers, including what they’re looking for and what their problems are. You might also gain insight into ways you can improve your website.

Bot/human hybrid: Many apps allow you to start your customer service with a bot, which will then transfer to human-staffed customer support if necessary. So the simpler inquiries can be handled completely by the bot, while more detailed ones filter upward to human-staffed customer support.


Chatbots have been around for quite some time, although they are getting much smarter as their technology progresses. Are you one of the organizations that stands to benefit from the benefits they offer?