Should Your Business Consider Chatbots?

The business community has benefited greatly from advancements in digital communication technologies. Today, there’s practically no end to the ways companies and brand representatives can engage with, troubleshoot for, market to or otherwise stay in touch with their fans and customers.

Chatbots are a relatively new addition to a bundle of tools that already included email, video chat, SMS, social networking and more. Chatbots are the next logical step in many ways when it comes to keeping businesses and customers in constant and easy contact. But they’re not for everybody. Below are some of the advantages of — plus one or two warnings about — chatbots to help you decide if it’s the right time and the right tool for your company.

What’s a Chatbot?

This word is one of those terms that pretty much gives it all away up front: A chatbot is an audio-based or text-based assistant that can autonomously help customers find answers to questions, troubleshoot problems or carry out other business-related tasks, such as ordering or re-ordering products, changing payment information, inquiring about or renewing subscriptions and memberships and much more.

Command-based chatbots are relatively rudimentary but still deceptively “intelligent.” They can respond to customer inquiries using heuristics that match replies with the most relevant topics or sub-menus for the customer.

On the other hand, AI-based chatbots are more sophisticated but also have a further way to go before they’re available to a wider array of businesses and more consistently able to reply accurately to any inquiry. But chatbots powered by AI are undoubtedly already showing their potential: Thanks to their use of natural language processing, they can reply “from scratch” instead of using canned responses. They can even become better over time at picking up meaning and intent from conversations with human callers.

With the different types of chatbots a little better understood, let’s move on to the main question, which is whether or not chatbots are worth the investment for your business. For a start, some industries are simply a likelier fit than others.

If Chatbots Make Sense for Your Industry

Chatbots are a relatively new concept, but they do already exist out in the wild. And there are several frontrunners when it comes to the types of industries that are well-suited to adopting chatbots. Some of them are:

  • Hospitality
  • Banking and financial services
  • Retail
  • Service-based companies

Based on polling, some 80 percent of business representatives would be interested in bringing chatbots into the fold at their company. But early popularity in the industries mentioned above already indicates which use-cases might yield the best results and return on investment. In hospitality, guests and travelers often require nearly instant solutions for checking into hotels and lodging, boarding airplanes and other conveyances, choosing venues, organizing transportation for meetings and conventions and a multitude of other tasks that have to happen at the speed of business.

In financial services, chatbots can help even regional banks and nonprofit credit unions provide members with account information or help them tailor their retirement or college savings. In retail and services environments, chatbots can pick up some of the slack during high-traffic times of the day or season by taking orders, pointing customers to what they’re looking for and more.

The point is, there might be use cases in your industry, and there might not be. Industries that depend on timely, accurate, always-available customer interactions appear to be early favorites, but as the technology improves, applications will undoubtedly continue to appear almost everywhere.

If You (and Your Customers) Value Time

On the customer and the company side of things, the first major advantage of chatbots is that they’re on standby 24 hours a day and don’t take a single day off during the year, provided there aren’t any technical snafus behind the scenes.

Allowing customers to have their questions answered on their own time is great already, but chatbots also save time for the company by providing an automated solution to the “problem” of answering common inquiries all day long. Both parties can breathe easier. Customers know they won’t have to try their luck calling back during business hours or trawling through a website for answers, and businesses know their employees are a little freer to respond to other, more urgent demands on their time.

There are one or two caveats when it comes to using chatbots in extremely customer-facing industries. Human beings know — or can be trained by locals — to respect cultural taboos and avoid words or phrases that might cause offense in another country or region.

The problem of maintaining cultural propriety during international affairs is not a new problem. But while it seems to make sense to turn chatbots into public liaisons in regions where you don’t have a strong employee presence to process customer calls, those chatbots had better have been developed with linguistic and cultural input from the region they’re intended to serve.

Being mindful of potential cultural frictions and even the subtleties of respectful political correctness is key to successfully using a chatbot to fill in your service gaps here and abroad.

If You Want Additional Insight Into Your User Base

The average interaction between a human customer and a chatbot can yield a surprising amount of information about your user base — too much, potentially, for a human operator to take in all at once, much less record and pass on to interested parties.

A phone conversation is practically analog compared with a chatbot chat when it comes to the potential to take in information from your user base. When your customers interact with your chatbot, with just a couple of simple questions and basic analytics, you’ll come away with a greater understanding of how they use your products, where common sources of frustration are coming from and nitty-gritty details. These details include their location, the device type they’re using to contact you or interact with your services and other factors that might be of interest to your marketing team, your R&D team or both.

Chatbots are here already — and companies are figuring out how best to put them to work. By 2021, say industry experts, the chatbot “market” — including third-party cloud-based chatbot solutions — should reach a total value of $15.8 billion. That’s a ringing endorsement. Just remember that chatbots are a product like any other, and computing their probable ROI isn’t that much different, no matter what else you’re promised by a software vendor. In some cases, the human touch might just be the better choice for your business anyway — you’ll need to decide based on your unique circumstances.

Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.

How #BigData Can Transform Your #Sales

Big data, cloud computing, AI and machine learning are all popular buzzwords these days. Nearly everyone is talking about these technologies and how they can be leveraged to provide benefits to a variety of companies.

In a general sense, big data can absolutely transform your business operations for the better. It feeds into a concept you should know well, called business intelligence. Through the technology, an endless supply of information is generated about your business, employees, customers, products and impact on the world at large.

This data, when used appropriately, is the end-all be-all for achieving ultimate success and improving sales. Before that can happen, however, raw data coming in must be analyzed, processed and converted into a more usable format.

How Big Data Becomes Actionable

There are two types of data that a business has at its disposal, one of which is less useful. The first type is raw data, which comes unstructured and in its original form. The second type is processed or organized data that is actionable and ready for use.

A major difference between raw data and usable data is that the latter provides a great deal of insight into whatever process, party or component you are studying. A huge swath of customer performance data, before being processed, might show something more generalized and simple — people like a certain product best, for example. However, diving in closer and analyzing the trends or patterns within datasets can reveal so much more.

Suddenly, you understand who it is that likes said product, why and what they’re using it for. Also, you can break your audience down into niche segments to better understand what they’re after. It’s even possible to see how they react after receiving your products or services, and how that affects their future relations with your company.

Closer to the real world. Companies or teams that use quotas and sales targets to measure performance can benefit greatly from data analytics. Target-setting is not the same as forecasting, so it’s vital you get the numbers right. By looking at existing data, you can more accurately choose these goals, honing the process over time to find the best marketers or salespeople.

Of course, these are just a few examples. There’s a lot more you can learn from the right data. The point is just that customer data and insights can help you understand your audience better, allowing for more accurate and informed decision-making. It also leads to a greater opportunity for success.

Some of the enhancements data analytics offers include:

  • Segmented and accurate audience targeting
  • Location-based analytics that relate to a particular place or region
  • Dynamic pricing opportunities that take local events into account
  • A reduction in customer churn, boosting retention and loyalty
  • Enhanced customer relations through better understanding
  • New business and upsell opportunities
  • Guaranteed or successful marketing trends

Using Data to Unlock Opportunities

Spending on big data technologies had surpassed $57 billion by the end of 2017. By 2020, it is estimated that every person on Earth will generate 1.7 megabytes of data per second. That’s an insane amount of digital information being generated on a consistent basis.

It’s becoming more and more common for companies — across all industries — to leverage the kind of big data, cloud computing and AI platforms that offer huge returns in business intelligence. Digital information is constantly flowing, with or without your express attention. As people tap into local networks, apps, online experiences and digital platforms, these systems continue to collect a multitude of user data. It’s a byproduct of the digital age, and you can put all of it to use, provided you know how to understand it.

Since that information is already flowing, it’s equal parts easy and convenient to access and extract more insights from it — this is the ultimate goal of business intelligence.

How You Leverage the Data Is Crucial

It’s not about how much customer information and data you’re collecting, because today it will essentially be coming from everywhere. It’s especially helpful that people carry a smartphone on their person at all times, resulting in even more intel-gathering opportunities.

Instead, it’s all about how you process and leverage the data you have. You could be collecting huge swarms, but it’s not lucrative in the least if you don’t know how to put it to use. You’re just going to be wasting a lot of time and resources.

It’s not a question of whether or not data can transform industries, specifically modern business. It’s more the question of how. Learn to process and understand it efficiently and you’ll be well on your way to improved revenue and better customer experiences. Big data can — and will — transform sales in many ways, providing better opportunities for your employees and improved experiences for your customers.

Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.

How to Deal with Your Business Getting Sued

No one goes into business expecting to be sued but unfortunately, it does happen. It could be a customer, a supplier, another business or an employee that files a claim against you and win or lose it is likely to cost you money. Even worse though is the harm it can do to the reputation of your business and that could lose you sales. You need to have the matter dealt with as quickly and as amicably as possible, so what should you do if someone sues your business?

Speak With An Attorney

This should be the very first thing you do.  You need to review the situation with a specialist, such as a nursing license defense attorney if the claim against you is for medical malpractice, or a ta lawyer if your issues are with the IRS. Different areas of lawsuits need different specialist knowledge and not seeking the right sort of assistance could affect your chances of winning the case.

When they are reviewing your case, if any information in the litigation is incorrect they are able to put the case on hold and also apply for a preservation order. This means that both parties must retain all data relating to the legal action.

You should always be honest and open with your attorney and do not try to hide anything from them. They cannot handle your case effectively if they only have half the facts.

You should have no direct contact with the person or company that is accusing you. Once they file a lawsuit the time for talking has passed and if they do contact you, you should refer them to your attorney.

Inform Your Insurers

There are many different types of business insurance policies to cover these sorts of eventualities, and if you have such a policy you should inform your insures of the impending court case. If you are covered, normally the insurers would pay your attorneys fees, court costs and any money that has to be paid to the other party. You should never just assume you are covered though as sometimes there can be specific circumstances that exclude it from the policy.

Do Not Ignore It

One of the worst things you can do if you’re sued, is to ignore a lawsuit. After a specified time, the plaintiff will win the case without you being able to do anything about it.

When you first receive it you will be given a time limit to respond, in most states, this is 30 days. You have that time to confer with your attorney and decide how you will respond. Before you do that, you need to understand the nature of the claim and the potential liability you and your business are exposed to.

Your attorney should make a plan of action with you and explain the pros and cons of defending the claim. Your level of insurance could also affect your decision at this point, and you only have those few days to get all this sorted out.

All the time the case is going on you need to deal with any requests for information promptly, as the more times the attorney has to ask you for things, the larger their bill will be. You also need to remember that while all this is going on you still have a business to run, and you need to stay focused on that too.

Showing Your Holiday Spirit: Decorating Tips for Businesses

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s time to start decking the halls of your business and filling your space with lots of cheer. The merriest winter seasons can bring up some surprising issues, so it’s important to do your research and make sure that any of your big decorating plans won’t cost you anything. Here are a few tips to show your holiday spirit and decorate your business in a welcoming, festive and inclusive way that welcomes and warms the hearts of all who enter. 

Start Simple with Some Lights

Lights are an essential holiday decoration, but they can be costly and even a fire-hazard if you don’t plan ahead. Have an electrician come and check out your electrical system and the lights you want to install beforehand to make sure your business is equipped to handle the extra voltage. Then, ensure you won’t be installing the lights anywhere they could catch fire.

The best type of Christmas lights for a business are simple, tasteful and non-distracting to drivers or passersby. Make sure that you don’t overspend and wind up with thousands of dollars’ worth of lights that you will only be able to use for a few months or holidays. If your space is small, consider framing the window with a string of white or multi-color lights, or winding some lights around fence posts and stair railings. Wherever you decide they should go, be sure to tape down or cover any potential trip and fall hazards you might have due to wires or extension cords.

Hire a Professional to Help

There are some companies that offer holiday decorating services. Asking around and doing some research on companies in your area could help you cut down on cost as well as risk. As professionals specializing inthat area, they should know the ins and outs of the décor process and support.Be sure to ask questions and take notes with both your commercial electrician and the decorating company to ensure your business decor stays safe and cost effective.

Swap Out Essentials

You can give your entryway and bathroom a holiday-ready makeover just by fastening some bows around everyday objects and replacing some of the essentials with holiday versions. A holly-shaped hand soap dispenser, for example, can replace your typical clear one and dress up the bathroom counter in a flash. Hanging a wreath on the door or fastening a festive garland to the front desk and counters can bring a lot of cheer while leaving plenty of room for regular operations. Adorn your desks or shelves with silver, red or gold bows for a touch of excitement and festivity. 

Whatever your decorations, whether you add a live tree to your lobby or decor your entrance with some vibrant wreathes, try using your brand’s colors. This can help you create a holiday space that’s both festive and on-brand. 

Focus on the Feelings

Everyone has their own holiday traditions, but we allassociate the season with warmth, comfort and kindness. Evoke the feelings ofthe season in your decor by relying on familiar favorites, then adding yourbrand’s own personal touch. When you put feeling first, be it in business ordecor, you’re bound to evoke the best response from your customers.

Dixie Somers is a freelance writer and blogger for business, home, and family niches. Dixie lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the proud mother of three beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful husband.

7 Ways To Get Your Business Organized and Ready for An Incredible 2019 Start

With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to organise yourself for the year ahead. The last few months of a year are incredibly important to business owners as things start to quieten down, it’s the perfect opportunity to focus on what the next year will look like for you.

To help you have an incredible start to 2019, here are 7 ways to get your business organized and ready for the new year:

  1. Organize Your Business Space

Whether you work from home or have an office space, organizing this area is a great way to refresh both your business and your mind. Clear out the things you don’t need, make space for new files and folders and make sure everything is ready for the new year. Of course, this also includes treating yourself to some fabulous new stationary.

  1. Tie Up Any Loose Ends

Whilst it’s not one of the most important things you can do, tieing up any loose ends will make you feel more organized going into 2019. Chase any unpaid invoices and reply to all your emails, you’ll feel much better for it.

  • Clear Out and Organize Your Computer

An organized computer makes for an organized mind! Taking the time to clear out any unwanted files and apps can make the world of difference when it comes to your computer’s speed. If you’re looking to remove apps from your Mac, you can learn how to do it here

  • Buy Yourself A New Planner

Planners are essential for business owners, even those who do most of their work online. With the option to plan your year ahead, focus on each day individually or look at things week by week – a planner is vital when it comes to keeping yourself organized throughout the entire year, not just the beginning.

  • Set Your 2019 Goals

Goal setting is important and with just a few weeks to go until 2019 begins, it’s important to ensure you know what it is you want to achieve within your business throughout 2019. Whether you set year-long goals, monthly goals or smaller, individual goals you’d like to hit. To learn more about goal setting, you can visit the MindTools website here.

  • Commit To A Schedule

If you noticed that you struggled to stick to a work schedule in 2018, take the time to put together a new work schedule that you think you’ll be able to stick to. Look at where you think you struggled and try to come up with a schedule that will resolve these issues, making 2019 your best year yet.

  • Mark Key Events On Your Calendar

Whether you use a physical planner or a virtual one, marking those important dates on it early will help you visualise how your year is going to look. Note down events, key holidays and anything else you think might be important to your business.

How will you be preparing yourself for the new year? Let us know in the comments below!

Staying Up To Date On The Laws That Affect Your Business

Owning and running a business is one of the most regulated things you can do in life. There’s many rules and regulations, ones that can be changed or updated on the fly, and always being aware of them is the key to success. But what if you miss something, considering you’re already swamped down with emails and administration during the 9 to 5? What if a charge is brought against you, and you have no idea where it came from or what the cause was? Now’s your chance to remedy situations like these.

Staying up to date in such a rapidly moving world is one of the hardest things to do, but you can manage it. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of information and aid out there, combined with your own resources and know how, meaning you’ve got a good chance to implement a difference here. So let’s get started.

Time to break out the pen and notepad – you’ve got research to do! 

Know What Laws Affect You

Knowing what laws are going to have an effect on your business is a good first step. You’re going to want to ebs sure that the model you’re using, and the operations you’re undergoing on a daily basis, are all legit and above board – different business types have different regulations, and that’s something a lot of people looking to move into self employment don’t seem to realize…

So make sure you’re not one of these owners, and that you’re aware of what differences in the law are going to keep you thriving for another day. Whether you’ve got a partnership, or limited liability company, or maybe a sole proprietorship, you’re going to need different sections of the law and business manual. On the other hand, the laws go even more specific than this,and you’re going to need to consider the sector you’re working in as well.Whether you’re working within the manufacturing sector, or maybe you’re in the hospitality sector, there isn’t a one size fits all shoe for you to slip into.If you need to clue yourself up a little more on these simple principles alone,take a look at this site.

Then you need to be aware of the types of laws there are out there. There’s labor laws, regulatory laws, tax laws, and there’s even some reporting laws that are going to govern how you operate, even when you’re online. The latter alone is crucial to how well your profits and loss margin looks at the end of the year: you need to report your finances to the right sources in the right way, according to the reporting rules laid out by the law in your area.

Consider this kind of law: the digital age makes it easier and easier to steal info, and also to fudge reports to the standards a company hasn’t been able to hit. Reporting laws are one of the best ways to avoid fraud within the business sector, and is a good way to protect your company, especially as a smaller operation – it’s essential to be up to date about how transparent your company data is.

Know What Sources You Can Trust

There’s a lot of legal sources out there that you can turn to for help, and you need to make sure you’re using their services if you’re looking to keep your finger on the button. Having whole teams of legal professionals and other aids, all in one place, with the time and energy to collect together the right sources you need to pay attention to – the thought alone takes a weight off!

Be on the lookout for sites like these, from general informational platforms to specific legal aid you can access for free, or for a small fee. Companies such as Legal Zoom, which offers an online platform for making sure you’ve got all the legal resources you need in one place, are going to be indispensable in your fight to make sure you’re operating correctly with all the profits you expected from the beginning of the year.

Have Someone with Their Finger on the Button

Usually, this is going to be you. As the business owner yourself, or one half of the partnership that takes care of the business admin, you’re going to always need to be up to date about the changes in the regulation surrounding the business laws in your country. If it’s you with the finger on the button, you’re going to be hyper aware of the news that crosses your doorstep, and you’re never going to have to blame someone else for potentially missing an important article or email that pertained to your operating standards.

If you need some quick help regarding this steam of information, let’s think of a few easy methods right now. You can set up RSS feeds for sites you’ve found yourself in the past, google alerts for any news regarding your sector, and even sign up to newsletters from legislation sites.

But if you don’t have the ability to be around a wifi connection 12/7, then you’re going to need someone else to fill the roll for you. Maybe it’s time to bring on board a new researcher in your team, or it’s time to promote someone hardworking and capable of initiative. After all, it’s up to you how you operate, as long as you’re doing so within the law!

Ready to Stay Up to Date?

Companies need to be transparent in the modern day and age, considering all the threats and attempts to misuse the law there are out there. You need to be sure you’re setting up a good foundation for your small business, whether it’s offline or online.

If you’re someone who’s looking to start a business, be sure to make the legal side of things your first port of call in the researching period. You want to make a business plan with total control over how you sketch your business model out – this is the first step.

Rating Data and Local SEO: Turning Reviews Sites Helping You Further

Buying online products or services is always intimidating for me. And not just me, consumers mind get flipped with the following sort of questions:

  • Is the seller legitimate?
  • Is the product reputable?
  • Could I get this item at a lower price elsewhere?
  • Am I likely to be scammed or dissatisfied with my experience?

You faced it somewhere while contemplating a deal. Didn’t you?

To most of us, the next logical step is to look around what others are saying about the seller and the product. Of course, we Google that.

Statistics:

  1. 72% of buyers don’t commit purchases until they have gone through reviews –Insights from Testimonial Engine.
  2. 93%of local buyers consider online reviews to make their opinion about a company –BrightLocal 2017 report.

If you Google “flooring companies Vancouver bc”; Yelp will be the first search result.

It’s just one query; there are a lot. Every industry keyword with every location – Google loves to rank Yelp at the first page.

Embracing Yelp

Yelp comes as the first name that’s so much synchronized with local ratings and reviews. With an average of 138M site visitors every month, its 206th most popular website globally according to Alexa.

While the site has nearly 4.7M visitors daily, it results in 200K calls daily to businesses. Statistics say that 98 percent of Yelp users made a purchase from a business they found on Yelp.

Well, Sites like Yelp, YP, Hotfrog or CanPages do have an impact on businesses. And these rating websites seem a good thing for your business, right? Leaders like Stigan Media suggest retailers go for Digital Ads this holiday season. They should bring more foot traffic and page views on your website.

Do a check.

Here’s the deal with rating and review sites.

Yelp, YP, or Angielist are more of competitive battlefields,and they use to stack businesses right there among each other making it easyfor buyers to comparison suppliers. A couple of bad Yelp reviews can easilymake Yelp users move to another store. If your listing does maintain a highrating, competition is still fierce.

Data Proof: Studies have concluded that only one five star difference on Yelpcan influence the user’s decision to choose one service provider over another.

Let’s consider an example to understand the behavior of Yelp’s Sphere.Let’s say the agency, DC web design Ottawa paid for a potential buyer to click on a search ad, and the paid click can get user’s attention on another competitor on Yelp. You can feel the risk. It’s just areal barrier local service providers handle.

They pour efforts, time and their money into beating out the competitors to get their advertisements in the top-ranked pages with the sole intention of getting valuable clicks, and ideally converting them into customers.

But that’s not enough.

Savvy online buyers land on a service provider’s website. Then they’ll move to Google Places, or Yelp or Angie’s List where they can verify that whether business and services are credible. They’ll compare reviews, prices and customer services with other competitors before finally making the decision to purchase.

Wait. Is this thing a solution?

What’ll be the outcome if visitors referred from paid clicks don’t have to leave your website to see what others are saying about your services? Can a strategic stream of ratings or reviews embedded on your website make the difference? Yes, it will work. Many businesses enforce this thing in their UI design. It would surely enhance users’ experience, put your credibility easily visible and further help visitors making their decision to purchase.

Possibly, this can help you build credibility and trust with the many visitors came from social platforms or paid clicks. This would remove any chances of getting land your paid visitors to your competitor’s listings.

Encourage more and more of your existing customers to leave you feedback on Google maps, Facebook Page, Yelp, Angie List, YP and elsewhere.

Some tips to get it done in a well manner:

  • Don’t do it manually. When data is less, you can put it manually. But in the case when you’ve bulk data to upload, it becomes time taking. Embrace marketing automation applications that enable webmasters to smoothly integrate ratings into the website and update them as soon as you get new reviews.

  • Don’t try to do all reviews five out of five. Feed some average ratings between the perfect fives, so you appear more authentic and trustworthy; rather than looking like a manipulative guy with customers’ reviews.

  • Some clients do reviews their own even before you ask them. Either they are extremely happy with your work or they have complaints to show to others. Try to get the ratio of pleasant reviews/angry notes as high as possible.

An average user goes through seven reviews to buildhis mindset about a company. Google seems to give a decent weight to reviews inlocal rankings. It’s one of the major ranking factors when an agency like SVPruns a local campaign. What are your thoughts on it?

Aggregately, users go through seven online reviews before building an opinion about a provider. Google also seems to allocate an immense weight toreviews when it comes to ranking local web pages. They consider it as one oft he intrinsic factors when an agency like SVP runs a localized search campaign.


Written by Shyam Bhardwaj, blogger and SEO analyst.