While chatbots are not new, Carat’s Megha Ahuja argues that it is now ready for a primetime role in helping brands deliver smoother customer experiences and meeting the needs of India’s consumers.

Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-born German philosopher and socialist said: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” And this is true in recent times where the whole world has been forced to change and accept the new situation as a new normal. If brands fail to accept and adapt they might find them in binds losing behind the quickly changing landscape.

But to understand this better let’s go to a world pre-pandemic, back to 2016 where Reliance Jio began enveloping the country with its fast, cheap cellular data. And given that low priced Chinese and Indian smartphones were making it affordable for millions of Indians to access the internet, this shift saw internet users from India doubling to 697 million in 2020. The days of every digital internet user being English-educated were soon over and the need to access information in vernacular languages became important. And with varied literacy levels, the importance of voice was even more important. Be it search or messaging, voice was gaining traction.

The pandemic has ensured the wide acceptance of digital, so much so that there seems to be a crashed 10-year timeline for digital behaviour of Indians. And hence brands must move towards augmenting the customer experience using artificial intelligence (AI). Increasingly customers want to interface with the brands they love for quick support. Chatbots can play a very crucial role in this space today, especially if it is backed by AI. Brands that ensure their clients remain efficient and give them their valuable time back will be the ones that win.

Here are five ways businesses could use chatbots effectively for their business:

1. Quick resolution: While online, customers prefer having a quick conversation with the brand instantly rather than breaking the communication channel by moving it to email, telephone or going through a list of FAQs. A chatbot is the perfect solution.

2. Ensure a 24x7 brand presence: Often customers are engaging with the brand at an hour of their convenience and a chatbot that helps engage the customer at any hour, shows that your brand is alive to the customer when they need you.

3. Economical and efficient operations: With workforce limitations due to the pandemic the chatbot could take off a huge load of the customer service teams. Also, it helps manage with a leaner workforce and manages all the preliminary conversations and escalations can easily be programmed into the chatbot. This makes customer service teams a lot more efficient and economical.

4. Go vernacular: Speaking to customers in a language of their choice will go a long way in building affinity, trust and confidence in your brand for the customer for the sheer familiarity and convenience it brings. A richer engagement with the brand will only elevate the customer’s experience and ensure they are a lot more patient with the brand.

5. Upsell: Often customers are reaching out seeking resolutions or clarifications on products/ services. A chatbot can easily understand the needs or concerns of the customer and not only resolve their query but also help in upselling them products of their interest or needs.

In India, many early adopter brands have already seen success in adopting a chatbot strategy for their online business. Be it Cardekho who with a bot that could converse in Hinglish (Hindi, English) ensured users find convenience not only in getting appointments or car valuations in two minutes but also spoke in a language they were familiar with.

Even the premier private banks in the country like HDFC and ICICI have adopted chatbots to ensure they are able to service more customers faster, without queuing up on the helpline to speak to some customer service personnel. It has also improved the efficiency of its customer service teams by decreasing workloads. Even travel brands like TravelTriangle and IXIGO have helped customers with planning holidays by selecting destinations and the right time to visit through effective chatbot strategies.

However, as you move ahead with the chatbot project for your brand, just remember that you think from a customer's perspective. It is important to define your strategy based on the customer you are engaging and accordingly develop a flow for conversations. Remember the more relevant responses you can create, richer the engagement with the customer.

Here are four key elements to a chatbot strategy that brands must follow:

1. Audience: Important to segment your audience that will engage with the chatbot. Building a framework for conversations can happen when you understand the types of users you will engage and understand their needs

2. Define your goals: You need to be clear if you are using the chatbots to service existing customer or for lead generation or build brand awareness. Only once you have zeroed down on your goal will you be able to create meaningful customer journeys and richer engagement

3. Plotting user actions: As users move through the conversational funnel, what are the various actions the user would take? Once you have planned for this, you are doing two things: generating value by delivering something relevant for the user and managing expectations as to what the bot can or cannot do. These essentially can be the measure of success to a design flow. Further, it also helps define points of escalation where customer service personnel could speak to the user.

4. Bind them with a story: While we know it is a bot, as humans we engage in a better way when the conversation with a bot is not a mere fill in the blanks or a talking FAQ. If the conversational flow can follow a storyline depending on the customer journey they are going to relate with the bot a lot more and ensure the user follows through the various user actions (metrics of success) we would like them as a brand to take.

As you go about building your chatbot strategy, please rely on feedback to make iterations to your conversation flows to make it relevant to the user, make conversions easy and ensure nothing falls through the crack. Do not expect the chatbot to replace your customer service team but use this to make them a lot more efficient and give a valuable experience to your customers by respecting their time and attention.