The Social Florist

Chatbots: Your new best friend

When you hear the term “chatbots,” you might think of something cold, mechanical, and entirely unfriendly. Many florists would probably feel the same way —they’re accustomed to dealing with clients face to face or over the phone. It can be hard to imagine a scenario in which automating these interactions is even remotely good for your business.

However, chatbots can actually be a boon. Michelle Brisebois, senior digital marketer and founder of Textrix Consulting and a long-time Canadian Florist contributor, shared her thoughts on why chatbots enhance your flower shop’s website and how they can make doing business easier.

WHAT IS A CHATBOT?

A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through text or voice interactions. A user can ask a question or command the chatbot to do something, and it will provide the answer or perform that action.
Brisebois noted that the term “chatbot” conjures the image of “Dr. Who” — not exactly the perception you’re trying to create. But, chatbots should neither be feared nor avoided.

WHY USE CHATBOTS?

Consider a chatbot to be on the front lines of customer service. “By engaging in a conversational exchange up front, the customer is more likely to feel a connection and to feel the conversation has begun even when you’re not there having it — the technology is,” Brisebois said. “The chatbot replaces the cold, ineffective contact
form.”
Visitors to your site also don’t have to wait to talk to a chatbot (in contrast to what often happens with in-shop, phone, or email interactions, where a potential customer is at the mercy of your staff’s availability). They can get a response almost immediately, which leads to higher levels of satisfaction, which “results in a more effective sales conversion,” Brisebois said.

She has seen her share of resistance for chatbots amongst florists.  “Most people think chatbots are too complicated to use or too expensive,” she said. That’s not the case, though. “I simply show them how the chatbots can actually be easily personalized to offer a nice branded experience and exchange with the customer.

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Once they see how easy it is, and I engage them in designing the conversation to sound as though they are actually typing the answer to the customer, it’s clear what the advantages are.”

CHATBOT BEST PRACTICES

Once you’ve decided to use chatbots, what can you do to ensure that they’ll be effective? “Be clear about the purpose of the chatbot and don’t try to have it take the interaction too far,” (like selecting individual flower varieties or colours) she said. “Just use it to collect upfront information and then send an information packet to the customer, so they have something to look at before you call them to follow up,” Brisebois said. “That could be a portfolio or price list or even a video for them to watch. Leave the exchange by giving them something to noodle on before you call them the next day and by ensuring you know how to reach them.”

Moreover, program the bots to use a warm, conversational tone in the manner you would use if speaking to a customer in person or on the phone, she added.

1-800-FLOWERS: A CHATBOT SUCCESS STORY

When you’re considering a new technology, it helps to know about other success stories in your own industry. Brisebois used the example of 1-800-Flowers. In 2016, the flower delivery company began using a branded chatbot through Facebook’s Messenger platform.

Two months after implementing chatbots, 1-800-Flowers president Chris McCann told reporters that 70% of the company’s chatbot conversations netted new customers. “They are already using the Messenger platform, so it’s been easy to engage them,” he said.

“They’re able to place an order in a minute; it gives them that fluidity.” McCann explained that 1-800-Flowers’ chatbot has two functions. The first is to take an order piecemeal, while the second connects the customer to a human customer service representative at the company’s contact centre.

Rachel Levy Sarfin
Rachel Levy Sarfin is a Toronto-based freelancer who has written about technology for a variety of publications and blogs.
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