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With campuses closing in-person instruction, healthcare systems fielding patients and media, and businesses moving to fully remote workforces to flatten the curve, more marketers should consider the use of chat-bots to answer frequently asked questions. Director of Innovation Justin Lutz explains the benefits, and how to get started with a chat-bot on your website.

Adjusting to “remote” life can be challenging, especially for organizations that rely on in-person events to generate engagement or interact with customers. This year, colleges are scrambling to design a new approach for an age-old experience, the onsite campus tour. Many institutions already have some form of “virtual tour” experience, but for those that don’t this is a great place to start. One way to help your prospects navigate the tour autonomously is to include a helpful virtual assistant/chatbot concierge.

An effective implementation accomplishes the primary goal of providing intuitive assistance to users looking for general information or those who are struggling to navigate the experience effectively. For example, a user could ask a question like “how many dining halls do you have on campus?”, and the virtual assistant can respond by linking to images or detailed information about the dining halls. This type of interactive and engaging experience helps mitigate issues caused by the relatively common occurrence of fragmented and siloed content across the organization’s web presence. Secondarily, the more we’re able to layer on natural interaction mechanisms, the closer we are to creating an effective substitute for the physical presence a prospect would have if he/she was on campus.

As with any chat-bot experience, it’s important to consider live-chat assistance as well. Remember that in this example, a live campus tour includes lots of face to face conversation. Selecting a platform that supports a seamless handoff from chat-bot to human can help to alleviate any potential issues caused by dead ends (areas or questions the bot is not trained to support). The optimal setup would of course also include an option to video chat with an admissions counselor or student volunteer in order to enhance the telepresence effect. Some bot platforms support turnkey third party integrations in order to handle video chat or live chat handoffs if they don’t offer that functionality natively. Additionally, the Siri Syndrome (the natural tendency of users to test the intelligence of an AI chatbot) indicates that we should always remember the golden rule when designing an AI driven chat solution: Never allow the user an opportunity to submit queries that your bot cannot respond to effectively, so consider building in “guard rails” to ensure your bot guides users intentionally, and is able to hand off to a human if/when necessary.

Now let's consider a very relevant and timely healthcare example. It has become apparent that social distancing is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19. It is now critical that healthcare organizations are offering digital triage tools that allow patients to self diagnose, and more importantly help them avoid a trip to the hospital if it’s not absolutely necessary. Given the fear and panic sweeping the nation at this time, call centers are also seeing significant increases in call volume. A well-designed chatbot solution can effectively reduce inbound call volume by offloading repetitive tasks to the bot, which then intelligently routes only critical calls (that require human intervention) to the live representatives in the call center.

Let’s take this line of thinking a step further though, as we’re in the age of voice assistants, and consider how that same chat experience could be extended and delivered as a skill for Amazon’s Echo, or Google Home devices. The most reputable conversational platforms now offer developers the option to deploy a single solution to multiple channels. In other words, we can design a chatbot solution for your web site, and with some minor tweaking, we can deploy that same codebase to Echo, Google Home, Facebook Messenger, and others. This process is not entirely “plug-n-play” due to the fact that our text based interactions vary in structure and content as compared to our voice based interactions. That said, it is almost always easier to leverage and build on an existing chat solution than it is to maintain two entirely separate systems (one for voice and one for text).

It’s somewhat ironic that this event which forces everyone apart could help us build bridges that bring us closer to our customers and clients than ever before. Technologies that have been viewed as a novelty are now increasingly becoming a prerequisite in a remote world. Opportunistic organizations in every sector will use this challenging time to continue building bridges, and will undoubtedly end up better for it, with a more robust and engaging customer experience that is ready for whatever the future brings.