You can’t be everywhere at once, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could clone ourselves? Well, now you can…kinda. Using technology to interact with your customers via chatbots is the next big wave for businesses – large and small – to ride.
Chatbot tools are now making it easier than ever to build a custom bot to interact with your Facebook clients 24/7 by answering FAQ’s and even using some of the lingo and personality that associates directly with your brand that people have become familiar with.
Rich: Murray Newlands is an online marketer and PR expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry. Murray serves as a contributor to a number of renowned publications including Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Venture Beat, where he writes and produces videos on entrepreneurship, tech, and social media marketing trends and startup advice.
His work has been featured on Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. Murray gained his Green Card by being recognized by the US Government as “an alien of extraordinary ability”. The last time that happened was with Superman, FYI.
Newlands is the author of Online Marketing: A User’s Manual, published by John Wiley, and Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals. Murray is an entrepreneur, business advisor, and speaker. He is the founder of Due, an online invoicing company helping over 75,000 businesses. He is also the founder of the online invoicing tool Sighted, and successful bot-making platform, Chatty People. Murray, welcome to the show.
Murray: Thank you very much for having me on.
Rich: Well this is great. And of course that last bit is a nice segue to talk about chatbots. I just recently got back from Social Media Marketing World and this year there was definitely some hubbub about chatbots and how they would change social media. Now I didn’t really know what they are, so why don’t’ we start there? What is a chatbot?
Murray: So really simply, a chatbot is a way of communicating with a company or a brand or a service using an automated tool. So to give some light to that, examples of this were to be if you think of Amazon Alexa where you speak to the physical device as using a chatbot interface to interface with Alexa. Other examples are Facebook who has Facebook Messenger where you message with each other. Well now you can also message with businesses. If you go to a business’s Facebook fan page often they will have a chatbot there where you can communicate with the company.
Some really simple examples of that – and where you want it and why you want it – are for example, if you want to buy a flight you could go to a site like Hipmunk on their Facebook front page, you can tell them you want to fly from San Francisco to New York on Friday and I want the cheapest possible option, and it will give you those results. Now that’s something that you could do over the phone, but then you have to make the call, you have to be connected with it. With this you can have this conversational connection with a brand but you can do it in your own time. So if you’re doing that and you have kids as I do nappy, you can go in and change the nappy and carry on with the conversation later. So there are many, many use cases for this and for why people prefer to have a similar basic conversation as you would have over the phone.
Rich: Well it sounds like chatbots are extremely patient. So basically I can start the process of looking for a flight or a room or whatever it might be, get distracted and go out to dinner, and then come back and that chatbot is still there waiting for me, in many cases?
Murray: Yes, exactly. Still carrying on the conversation.
Rich: Now Hipmunk is a very cool company, it’s a large company, it sounds like these things might be used by giant corporations. Is there a way that small businesses can take advantage of it or am I just misunderstanding and there’s plenty of opportunities for small businesses to play in this arena?
Murray: So any business, company, or brand online that has a Facebook page can set up a chatbot. Chatty People is my product, and yet there are many other products where anyone can go on and set up and try building a chatbot for free for their company.
Now why would a small, local company do this? Well it enables people to have an online interface to connect and communicate with your brand at any time. So for example, if you’re a local restaurant you could have a chatbot that when people ask you frequently asked questions like, “Are you open right now?”, “What are your opening hours?” “What is your latest special offer?” And just being able to provide really simple connectivity and really simple answers to frequently asked questions is a great way for local small businesses to use chatbots.
The other thing is chatbots for now are cool in the same way that having a website or an app was cool. So it’s an opportunity for small, local brands and businesses to gain some notoriety or publicity in their local market by doing innovative things with chatbots. So for example I’ve spoken to someone who doesn’t have a chatbot they have a “cat bot”. When you ask it a question it meows back to you or sends you emoticons with cat references. So if you have a local pet food store, why can’t you have a cat bot for your pet food store?
Similarly people have made bots which have drinking brands or other similar simple games. But because chatbots are new and people are interested in them, they have a novelty value.
Murray: For business, if you want to market yourself and you want people to think of you as a cool, innovative company doing something new and a new way to gain new customers, building a chatbot is definitely something that you can do that will provide a new way of engaging.
Rich: I totally get that and I think if people are sitting there saying what is the benefit immediately for me if they’re listening to this show at home, the one benefit is just the fact that once you set up this chatbot, because you’re going to be one of the few, you will get more attention because of it because it is new and shiny. And then you write up a press release and send it to all the local papers and suddenly they’re doing stories on you about your innovative ways of doing business. So I think that makes a lot of sense whether you’re going to do a cat bot, or a chatbot, or whatever kind of bot you’re going to do, this is a great way to get increased visibility while playing around with new technology to see if it fits in with your overall business plan.
Murray: Yes. The other thing is this is something that’s going to evolve. So as I said you can do very simple conversations with chatbots, but also many of the bot building tools have ecommerce built into the chatbot so people can buy products.
We’re going to see voice control. Amazon and Google have proved you can buy a voice device that sits at home and you ask it to order things. People are going to start using messenger communication, whether it’s by text or whether it’s by voice, to communicate with automated systems that connect with your business. And that’s not just going to be major companies, that’s going to be every type of business.
So it’s also something that you might think, “Well how can I stay abreast of conversation?”, and this is something that definitely is a trend that is going to put me in the whole of society. Major companies are doing this and involved in this, so Facebook has seen the rise of WeChat. With WeChat in China, most Chinese people have WeChat. You can use it to review companies, you can use it to buy products or services, and you can use it in many forms. So Facebook is seeing that and very interested in that and wants to bring that experience to the American market, otherwise someone like WeChat will do that.
So Facebook is putting a huge effort into growing this and so that’s one of the reasons why this – among other marketing efforts – is likely to be a winner. And as a small business or a local business, you want to be trying to spot those trends which you think are going to be winners and people are really going to be interested in using and engaging it.
Rich: Absolutely. So you’ve convinced me. So I want to get started with this, let’s say. How do I actually get started? Like, what is the first step if I say, “I want to start playing around with some chatbots and set them up for my own company”?
Murray: Well the first thing really to think about it is, do people engage with you and are your users on Facebook? The answer is “yes”, they probably are on Facebook. The next thing is to say do they engage with my Facebook page or the Facebook page of my competitors – if you’re not yet involved with that. Then work out what those types of engagement are and how it might be useful to your customers. So if you figure out that when your customers are buying products or services they have questions.
Setting up a chatbot that simply is very text based that provides answers to commonly asked questions from your customers, that makes your chatbot a useful reference. And so by being a useful reference within a local market, it’s yet another reason for potential customers and existing customers to buy from you rather than buying from other people.
So that is a really simple way of setting it up. So you can go to my website or another website of a similar competitor or Google “chatbot tool” and there are many services that are set up to make it really easy for anyone to do this, And normally within a half an hour or an hour of playing around with it you can work out how to do it.
It’s easy also to start with really simple things such as frequently asked questions, or hours of opening, or even if they start messaging me it gives a phone number so they can actually speak to a human. So it’s really simple to get started and give it a try.
Rich: I just want to interrupt for a second. It sounds kind of like it’s an email service provider model.
Rich: So basically I’m coming to you like I would come to a Constant Contact and basically I’m using your software. You mentioned yours was Chatty People. And basically I’m going to use your platform and I’m going to buy the software, or is this where we’re going to pay a certain amount of money every month to be able to run your chatbots?
Murray: It’s very much like an email service provider; if you sign up for free you can have 100 users signed up for free, an then if it grows and it takes off we have a model where we charge as it grows. And that’s the same with a lot of platforms out there like that.
Rich: Ok. And when you say “users”, somebody might come and they might use my chatbot once and never again. Is that how you define a “user”, the first 100 people are free?
Murray: It’s 100 people per month.
Rich: 100 people per month. Ok, cool. You don’t have to give me your process exactly, but what am I looking to pay once I break that 100 person barrier?
Murray: It’s going to be similar to an email model. A small business is going to pay probably less than $100/month to have this. It’s not going to be thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. It is a very hot topic, there are a lot of competitors in the market and I’d advise people to have a look around and try different approaches and different models.
There are thousands or tens of thousands of chatbots that have already been built using different tools. It’s not something that’s brand new but it’s certainly something that most businesses haven’t yet caught on to or tried and is well worth looking at.
And I’ll say this, there are consultancies charging millions of dollars for building bots, but I think for most people an most businesses, getting started with something really simple is a good way to start and starting to think about it as much as anything else. Think how can I use it and is it something that is beneficial to me. Just as with apps, not only can you use it for existing business, people have actually set up whole businesses and the whole business is a chatbot. So it could be the starting point rather than the additional point.
Rich: It sounds like it’s something that we could definitely grow. Part of me is reminded of my old, classic tech space games like Zork and Choose Your Own Adventure kind of stuff that you can definitely have some fun with.
So one of the things you mentioned is some certain obvious questions that your chatbot can help people out with, such as hours and directions and what have you. But do I get to choose my own way of saying things? Because I know when I use an email service provider their language is just so dry and awful – because it needs to be – because it’s for everybody. But I want to go in there and inject my own personality, whether for flyte new media or Agents of Change, and I have a certain way of talking. So is that something that I have to build in, not only do I choose my own questions, but I can choose how I phrase my questions and answers?
Murray: Yes, absolutely. You can give the conversation your own brand, your own voice, speak with your own language. If you have a community and the community had its own language, then you can use your own language within that bot conversation. And you can actually set up bots with different languages as well, so it doesn’t just have to be English, American. As I said, it can even be cat language if you use emoticons.
Rich: Or Klingon.
Murray: So you can have it in any way that you want. If you’re a personality, you can definitely add that personality. You script the initial conversation. A couple of other things that’s important to think of is it’s important within the conversation that if people want to speak to a human being – they want to speak to you – that you give them a mechanism to actually contact you as an individual. You give them the option to click off to a contact form or you provide a phone number if they want that.
The other thing is that you’ve got to think when you’re setting these up that people might come in and talk about anything, so it’s quite good when you’re setting up your chatbot conversation to enable suggestions for conversation and things that people might ask, because your users and consumers will be new to it. So often what we do is we set it up so it says, “Welcome, this is the chatbot for XYZ company, please ask one of these frequently asked questions”, so that you direct where the conversation is going. Just like if you met a customer in real life, you would help set their expectations of what type of conversation it will be.
Rich: And that makes sense. Many of us have used Siri before, and Siri after you turn it on will say, “Some of the questions you might ask me are…”, and it will give people kind of an idea to help them out. So I think that makes a lot of sense.
And as I’m listening to you talk, I’m thinking about my own Agents of Change Conference, and every year there’s a few people that struggle with the live feed. Maybe it’s because they didn’t pay, maybe it’s because they forgot their login information, maybe their internet connection is down, and often they’ll leave a message on our Facebook page and we never see it. I’m thinking that a chatbot would be perfect for a conference with a live feed like this because we’d be able to say, “If your connection is spotty click here”, or “have you tried this?”, and all that sort of stuff that would be automated so only the biggest problems would actually make it through to my team, the kind of things that would need human intervention rather than some quick FAQs
Murray: Absolutely. And that provides a better experience for the user because they get immediate response and it means that your team can focus on things that are real problems and they can spend much more time on those real problems and providing a higher level of service rather than just repeating the same conversation over and over again. So everyone wins in that scenario.
Rich: Absolutely. Now is there any chance that we can unlock Skynet by using chatbots?
Murray: So what’s really interesting…
Rich: I’m so psyched that you have an answer to this question.
Murray: The thing is that social media is really interesting in that a lot of the reason people are on social media is that they are lonely and they want conversation and engagement. And social media is very good at giving you constant pings whenever someone in your network does something. So it gives you that dopamine push every time so you get a message and you become really addicted to it.
People are working on chatbots that are assistants, but also that are companions. An if you think that you speak to your friends online – and often people’s friends online become closer than their friends that they meet in real life – well I can definitely see a future where people create chatbots that are your best friend who is always there for you and always supportive, who doesn’t have another agenda, who motivates you through hard times, who you can ask all kinds of personal questions that you couldn’t ask or would be too embarrassed to ask another individual. You can see how it might change and affect society because if people are struggling with addiction, or with motivation, or many different things, having a best friend that’s a chatbot in one form or another could be really beneficial to you. On the other side of that…
Rich: And the dystopian answer now.
Murray: That is open to huge manipulation. You can imagine what that best friend should be recommending to you – or could be recommending in the form of products, or political views, or outlooks on life, or how you should treat other human beings – is very much something that could be really effective from a business and marketing perspective.
Rich: I see how it can be used for evil where somebody might say to their chatbot, “I’m really struggling with this emotional problem.” And the chatbot says, “Try a Pepsi.”
Rich: Alright, This has been great. I’m actually very excited, Murray, to go check out chatbots both for my regular day job as well as Agents of Change. I had literally no idea what chatbots were just a few weeks ago and now I can see they’re really their own marketing channel and you inject your own personality and your own brand into this. This can be a great way to engage your customers regardless of the size of your business. It really does feel very saleable to me.
Murray: Yeah. There will be brands that break out with in the chatbot space, and that could be a massive company or it could be a small local business that manages to find the right way of putting out a great chatbot that takes them internationally.
Rich: This is great. And if you have any future stories about creative uses of chatbots – or anybody listening – make sure you leave some comments in the show notes, I’d be definitely interested in checking those out.
Murray this has been great and eye opening to say the least. Where can we find out more about you and your company?
Murray: So you can find me at murraynewlands.com is my website, I’m @murraynewlands on Twitter where I tweet out motivational stuff, or chatbots is ChattyPeople.com for my chatbot tool. And like I said, it’s free for anyone that wants to build a chatbot.
Rich: Fantastic. Murray thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Murray: Thank you so much for having me on the show and I look forward to hopefully reaching
Be sure to head on over to Murray’s website to learn more about him, and what he’s doing in the chatbot space. And make sure to say “hi” to him on Twitter and let him know you heard him on the Agents of Change podcast!
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his brand new book!