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 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.

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.

Choosing New Business Software

Running a business involves making regular improvements to your efficiency so that you are able to keep up with your competitors and offer your customers a fantastic level of service which they can’t get elsewhere. And one of the main ways that you can do this is by using various different types of business software. But with so many different choices out there, it can present a major challenge to know which ones to go for. So, here is a brief guide designed to make your task just a little bit easier.

Get Your Aims Clear

Before doing anything, you should decide on your aims when it comes to your business. What are the issues that you would like to address and how can the software help to improve these? Ultimately, your best course of action is to divide these up into priority order. New software takes time to get used to and you don’t want to change everything at once. And once you have installed the software and become used to how it works, you then need to address just how successful it has been in solving your problems.

Work Out Your Budget

The next step that you need to take is to determine your budget. Business software ranges from the free to the expensive, and you don’t want to risk overspending – especially if it proves not to work out. Find out whether there is an upfront cost involved in getting the software or if you have to fork out for a monthly subscription. And remember that just because some software is expensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be the best.

Look for Specialised Programs

With such a wealth of business software out there, it makes sense that it fits comfortably within your aims. Of course,there is plenty of general software out there, but if you can go for something which fits your business aims specifically, this is even better. So, you could take a look at some legal software if you run a firm involved in this area. The closer the software fits your individual needs and requirements, the more useful it is likely to be.

Get Input from Staff Members

It is not only you who could end up benefitting from business software. In fact, your staff may end up using the programs more than you do! So, it makes sense that you consult with them closely when it comes to working out the best software out there for your organisation.

Businesses both large and small use software to improve the way that they run. And while it makes sense that you do the same thing, you should think carefully about the types of programs which you choose to invest in so that you can get the maximum benefits from them.       

5 Tips for Staying Productive While Relocating a Small Business

Relocating your business, no matter how big or small, can be a somewhat tricky endeavor. If you fail to organize all of your business tasks properly during the relocation period, your business is bound to experience some downtime which may have some serious consequences later on. What’s more, your employees will be affected by the move as well, which can seriously compromise their productivity and motivation. That’s why you, as the business owner, need to make sure you do all that’s in your power to make the move go as seamless and as stress-free as possible.

Here are some ways you can achieve that and make both your business and your employees stay productive during the move.

Time it right

While timing the move precisely is not quite possible, you can at least try to minimize the gap between moving out of your old office and moving into the new one. Also, make sure you completely set up the new office before the start date, to enable your employees to start working again as soon as possible – preferably as soon as they enter the new office space. Timing the move during the holiday season is possibly the best way to go, especially if your business practices collective vacation or annual shutdown.

Shift your offer to the online realm

If you haven’t done it so far, make sure you shift your offer to the online world during the move. By making your products or services available to your customers online during the move, not only will you seriously reduce the downtime your business is bound to experience, but it will also help your business to grow in the long run. However, it’s advisable to start working on your online business endeavors well-before the move, as it can be somewhat overwhelming.

Support working from home

Picture this scenario: your employees are sitting at their desks trying to focus and complete the task at hand while the movers are trying to pack the office furniture and equipment and relocate it to your new office space. To avoid this scenario, encourage your employees to work from their homes until the new office space is set up. This way, they will have the freedom to create ideal working conditions for themselves in the comfort of their own homes instead of having to struggle to stay productive in the office. Besides, every business-related task that can be taken care of remotely – should be, as that’s another great way to reduce downtime.

Make the move fun

Team building is everyone’s favorite office activity. So, why not try to make moving fun and turn it into team building? Since you’re a small business, chances are that you don’t have a ton of resources you can afford to spend on moving. If that’s the case, know that there really is no need to hire professional movers. Instead, you can opt for a company that offers truck rentals to find the best deal and ask your employees to help you out with the move. This can include everything from equipment organizing and packing to loading the trucks and driving everything to the new location. This way, not only will you save up a significant sum, but you’ll also offer your employees a chance to get to know each other better.

Always have backup

Now, while we do live in the digital era, there are still instances where you’ll simply have to meet a client, employee or a business partner in person. In such cases, holding the meeting in either your old or your new office space is not quite the best way to go, especially if neither of those places is fully functional. So, instead of risking potential unpleasant situations – e.g. having to deny your client a meeting due to the lack of office space – you should have a backup plan in place. For instance, there area lot of temporary rental office spaces where you can relocate everyone whose job can’t be performed from home, and where you can hold important meetings until your new office space is ready.

Therefore, when moving your small business, make sure you organize all of your business-related tasks accordingly, to lower the impact a move is bound to have on your company. Additionally, show your employees that you value them by asking them to help you out and try to make the move as seamless and as stress-free as possible. Finally, make sure that your business is still up and running during the move to avoid risking becoming irrelevant and falling out of touch with your audience.

About the author:Mike Johnston is a home improvement and business blogger from Sydney. He is a regular writer at SmoothDecoratorand contributor on several interior design, real estate and eco blogs. Mike’s goal is to create and share meaningful content that helps and inspires people.

5 Actionable Tips for Scaling Your Small Business

Do you know how to scale your business? Starting your business took a lot of hard work. Now that you’re ready for expansion, you will likely face an entirely new set of challenges.

Already, as part of your routine, you must serve customers, supervise your staff, keep the books and fill other administrative roles. With so much to do, scaling your business might seem impossible. Where do you start? How do you find the time?

Use the following actionable tips for scaling your small business to do the job without becoming overwhelmed or busting your budget.

Embrace Success

Already, you’ve overcome the odds by building a successful small business. You know what failure looks like and you probably don’t like it. So, as you scale your business, think big and approach everything you do with a “success” mentality.

You can probably find thousands of fantastic ideas that can help you scale. Prepare yourself right now to say “no” to most of them. You have limited amounts of time and money, so stay focused on the things that matter the most.

Always keep the big picture in mind. Make every decision with an eye for the future. If you don’t, you could incur unnecessary expenses. For example, if you skimp on your data network or software applications, you may have to replace them if they can’t grow with you.

So, when you invest in systems, make sure they can scale with your business. Take a similar approach while assembling your team.

Get Help

Find someone who can serve as your mentor and advisor. Such a person could be anyone with experience either in your industry or your type of business. An investor, business owner, or someone with similar experience can fill this role.

In addition to getting advice from peers, you should learn to depend on your team. Rather than trying to do everything yourself, try delegating responsibilities. By letting other people share the load, you can have more time to plan and execute your growth strategy.

Of course, as your business grows, you will need to expand your team. Avoid the temptation to take shortcuts with your team. You need well-qualified people who can deliver a high level of performance. To do this, you’ll need to offer competitive wages, perks, educational opportunities, and other benefits.

Use Technology

As you scale, look for ways to work smarter rather than harder. Here, technology can play a vital role. For instance, you can use a cloud-based collaboration app to unify remote workers with your traditional employees.

When done right, your entire team can work together on documents, share files, and hold group brainstorming sessions. Tools that support instant messaging, live chat, video conferencing, and virtual whiteboards can also help your staff become more productive.

Automation offers you additional ways to scale your business. Thanks to technology, you can eliminate redundant data entry and automate many routine tasks. In the end, you can substantially improve productivity while eliminating opportunities for making errors.

Other opportunities for improving your business’ performance include analytics tools. These can collect and analyze multiple data points from your organization and provide insights into its performance.

Get Online

Your website and social networks are assets that you shouldn’t ignore. Spend time assessing their current state and then develop a plan for moving forward. Remember that a fresh and active online presence can grow your sales.

Now is a fantastic time to refresh your market research. First, identify the type of customers that need what you offer. Next, learn about the problems and challenges they face. You should also learn about their desires and aspirations.

Based on your research, create a persona that represents your ideal customer. As you create content, keep this person in mind. Create value by addressing the real-world issues that your persona faces.

Most of all, be consistent. On social media, share your brand’s personality. Socialize with your followers and share content. Do more than pitch sales. Become part of the community.

Encourage Feedback

In your quest for growth, never forget about your current customers. For starters, you can dramatically reduce your selling costs by closing repeat sales. In other words, by expanding your base, you can boost your profitability.

Your customers can also provide you with feedback that can support your ongoing success. They can provide you with answers to important questions:

● What new products and features should you sell?
● How can you create a better customer experience?
● What factors limit their frequency and volume of sales?
● How can you deliver more value to the marketplace?

Consider sending customers a survey after every sale. This gives them a chance to express their level of satisfaction and share their opinions. To encourage participation, keep your surveys short and simple. Additionally, offer an incentive such as a discount on a future purchase.

In conclusion, rest assured that you can successfully scale your business. However, to avoid the mistakes that have doomed other business, you should apply the above tips. Start by thinking big. your winning attitude will help you overcome failures and mistakes.

As you make progress, avoid distractions, get the help you need, leverage technology, and build your online presence. In the end, scaling your business requires a lot of work and some risk. What do you think about this topic? Share your comments or experiences that may help small business owners rise to the next level.

Joe Peters

Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys reading about the latest apps and gadgets and binge-watching his favorite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters