Since its inception, the internet has undergone countless shifts, evolutions, and transformations. From plain text to graphics, Flash to HTML5 video, simple forms to complex web apps, the internet of today is a far cry from its original form.
In spite of these changes and improvements, one constant has remained: the web continues to be a relatively lousy way to connect with customers and convert interested browsers into actual buyers.
The Conversion Challenge
For many, the idea that the Internet is somehow deficient when it comes to online sales borders on blasphemous, and it’s certainly true that countless individuals and companies have made their fortune selling online. This is especially the case for online retailers that essentially duplicate the brick-and-mortar experience online—a customer goes to the store (often to buy products they routinely purchase), selects the items, checks out, and pays for their purchase. Amazon is a classic example of this kind of online business
The fact is, however, that for many businesses that sell services or products requiring a measure of research—such as software—the current state of back-and-forth communication and conversion leaves much to be desired.
Often, the process begins with a customer navigating your website, trying to determine if your company offers what they’re looking for, trying to find the specific product or service that best fits their needs, and often comparing similar products or service to determine which is the best.
Ultimately, no matter how well-designed a website is, there’s simply no way to account for the infinite possibilities involved in how someone may or may not try to navigate to the information they need. The one thing that would cut through the noise and make it possible to quickly arrive at a decision is the ability to talk with someone, ask the necessary questions, and come to that decision.
The way most websites deal with this is through the ubiquitous web contact form. Unfortunately, the old standby doesn’t perform very well. In fact, the average conversion rate of a web form is only 2.35%. Even among the top 10% of the internet’s sites, conversion rates still hover just above 11%. Much of this is due to the static nature of web forms. No matter how well you design your website and any associated forms, there’s still no way to account for every possibility, every kind of user that might be interested in your product or service.
Worse yet, many web forms perpetuate old-style, archaic ideas of how a customer should interact with a site. Virtually every major web browser offers auto-fill options to help users speed up mundane data entry, such as web forms. Inexplicably, however, some web forms disable auto-fill functionally, or use technologies that are incompatible. Still other websites make the mistake of asking visitors to answer too many questions, when the majority of users only have the time and patience to answer a few, sometimes referred to as “survey fatigue.” This problem is compounded even more when the questions aren’t relevant to the specific reason the person has for being on your site.
How Chatbots and Conversational AI Can Be A Game-Changer
The above issues illustrate the need for a paradigm shift in how websites interact with visitors and convert them into paying customers. Chatbots and conversational AI are already proving to be that shift.
While chatbots are often called AI, the reality is that they don’t quite reach the level of other true AIs, such as IBM’s Watson, or even lesser AIs such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexis or Google’s Google Assistant. Instead, chatbots essentially involve complex, boolean programming that is designed to respond in a certain manner when various criteria are met. The end result is a way of engaging customers much more effectively than old-style web forms, offering the visitor the back-and-forth experience that more closely mimics an in-person conversation.
This allows companies to use chatbots to drill down and ascertain exactly what a user is interested in and offer relevant help and information accordingly. For example, a chatbot can be programmed to recognize that a person is looking at a specific page or product, ask pertinent questions, and make relevant recommendations regarding products or services the person may be trying to find.
Similarly, chatbots can be programmed to recognize when someone comes back to your site for subsequent visits and engage with them to determine what they want or need. This can be an invaluable tool in filtering prospective leads to determine which ones most align with your company’s offerings, and which are likely to represent serious interest. For companies that lack the resources to staff entire call centers with the personnel necessary to follow up on each and every lead, chatbots can save time and money helping your sales staff spend their time where it counts.
Chatbots can even automate the initial steps of the conversion process. For example, if the chatbot identifies a visitor as someone who has been to the site before, perhaps even looked at the same product on each visit, and has engaged the visitor and determined they are interested in additional information, the chatbot can offer the visitor the option of speaking with a representative then or at a later date. If the individual wants to talk at a later date, the bot can offer a number of appointment options, schedule the one that best works for the visitor, and add it to the sales team’s calendar.
Even when a person is not a good fit for your company’s products or services, a chatbot can help you to improve your brand by identifying such individuals and offering to direct them to options that better align with their needs. All too often, sales personnel have a tendency to try to make a sale at any cost—even under less than ideal circumstances. While it may lead to more money in the short-term, in the long-term you end up with a customer who isn’t happy because they weren’t a good fit for what they purchased. By relying on a chatbot’s programming—based on cold, hard facts rather than emotion, drive, competitiveness, or a desire to make a sale—it’s much easier to avoid these situations and the negative customer experience that often results.
Chatbots and Conversational AI: The Future of the Web
As chatbots and conversational AI continue to evolve and grow, business to consumer (B2C) interactions on the web will be increasingly handled by these burgeoning technologies.
In fact, just as virtual assistants are making significant inroads into people’s homes, it’s not hard to envision a time when chatbots, virtual assistants, and conversational AI will be the de facto standard for browsing websites, with customers asking the chatbot to show them what they’re looking for, rather than using search or website navigation.
Until that day arrives, your company can still benefit from integrating chatbots and conversational AI into your sales and customer service experience, leading to better conversion rates and an improved brand image.