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When your customers have questions, they go online for answers.

The music industry is discovering what retailers have known for a long time: Their customers are often happier to deal with a chatbot than a person to find out what they want to know.

Just ask Apple Music. Or Spotify. Or Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. Their customers and fans are flocking to chatbots for playlists, purchase recommendations based on their musical interests, record promotions, and more.

You may think chatbots are just another way technology is sucking all the personal contact out of the music retail trade. Maybe. But if chat is what customers want it might serve you well to keep in mind you need them more than they need you.

Before going any deeper into it, here’s a brief overview of customer-facing chatbot technologies.

The most sophisticated is based on AI (artificial intelligence), which you don’t want to think about too much unless you have massive computing and data management capabilities. Another is rules-based chat that relies on an if-then decision tree; if a customer selects this from a pre-populated list of issues, then the bot will return this list of potential solutions. It’s slightly less sophisticated than AI, but as a stand-alone, it’s either coding or cloud-computing intensive.

The chatbot sweet spot for small and medium sized music stores may be third-party and integrated business apps for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social platforms. They are an effective way to meet your customers where they go when they want an alternative to calling about products, order tracking, service after the sale, discounts and coupons, in-store events, and more.

If you’re not on social media, you should be. If you are, remember to embed a link on your website to the chat app.

Regardless of what bot platform you choose, there are some “do this” and “don’t do that” things to remember when designing your chat strategy.

Use chat to engage your customers, not annoy them.

Before I explain how to develop an effective chatbot, I’ll go over the factors that cause them to disappoint—or worse, make users angry or leave them feeling frustrated.

  • Unclear user profiles. Know your customers, what they want, and how best to communicate that. Without a clear user profile, your bot will use words, phrases, and messaging that frustrate and anger customers. Your chatbot should reply to queries in a tone, voice, and style that resonates with the people in your customer base. If you aren’t sure who they are, take time to create or update personas or customer profiles.
  • Chatbots used for customer complaints. Using automated chatbots to handle issues is often viewed by customers as keeping them from speaking with a “real” customer service representative. This is annoying, but there’s an easy fix. Pop a “live chat” option into the bot response if the customer has tried a couple of times without success to get the desired answer. Automated chat—typically the rules-based technology—are great for easy questions. Always make it easy to connect with a customer service rep when people need help with an issue. It will help prevent virtual crises and meltdowns.
  • Inability to understand. If the customer has difficulty framing the question or deciding which of the options the rules-based platform offers, they will give up. You’ve done it, right? After you launch a virtual assistant, regularly check its back-end records to see if—and when—users are falling off. Then make adjustments to deliver a better chatbot experience.
  • Use with seniors. Older people may not trust—or know how to use—virtual assistants. It’s a good idea to offer a more straightforward contact method, such as phone or email, for older consumers.
  • Sluggishness. If the automated bot has to “think” too long about an answer or live chat platform is balky, customers will get impatient. Cloud-based computing for chatbot operations is typically a medium-to-large enterprise option, but it might be worth a look. Cloud-based virtual assistant back-end architecture can sort through virtually any amount of data speedily and handle temporary usage spikes.
  • Privacy worries. People do not like to give up their personal information on the internet. All things digital intersect somewhere in cyberspace, and often that’s in the databases of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. It’s not likely you can build a zero-trust firewall between your bot and the rest of the web, but you can soothe user anxiety. Make your privacy policy clear what your chatbot provider is, the information collected, and how it is used. Being completely transparent will go a long way toward gaining the trust of anxious chatbot users.

Use chat to enrich the customer experience.

Here are my top tips for developing a virtual assistant your website visitors will trust and love using.

  • Make it easy. Whether it’s products, services, or information, your chatbot must make it easy for visitors to find anything they want and link to it directly.
  • Make it clear. The answers and statements served up by your virtual assistant must be communicated in a way that makes it easy for people in your target audience to understand them. There’s nothing more challenging to read or comprehend than a lengthy or complex chat response on a small smartphone screen.
  • Make it on point. Use your automated responses to answer easy questions: order status, tracking, appointment requests, and so on. That frees up your customer service team to handle the more complex issues, whether via live chat or the telephone.
  • Ensure you have human backup. If you can’t offer in-person realtime customer support 24/7, turn off your bot and tell website visitors to return during business hours. Or ask them to leave their contact information (name and email address or phone number) so a company representative can get in touch with them when available.
  • Use a top-tier translation service. If you offer chat in different languages, have it tested by native speakers for each language. It will help prevent embarrassing translation mistakes.
  • Ensure your chat service can handle usage spikes. If you adopt a higher-end automated service, make sure your virtual assistant system can handle it. Your service provider can advise you on this.
  • Don’t use chat to do too much cross-selling. Allow your chatbot to mention products and services users might find value in, but don’t go overboard. They’ll lose trust if they view it as a sales bot.
  • Offer something “extra” for chatbot purchases. Offer discounts, coupons, and promo codes via chatbot to encourage purchases through it. People may even tell their friends that you’re doing it, which could get them to check out your site and use your bot.
  • Understand your target audience. Make sure your chatbot’s personality, tone, messaging, and wording meet your user’s expectations. If you give it an avatar, ensure that it’s somebody they’ll trust and like interacting with.

To chatbot or not?

In the end, the decision about whether to implement a virtual assistant is yours. If you decide to add a chatbot to your website, avoid the common pitfalls that come with them and take steps to ensure your visitors will engage with it and benefit from the experience.