ARTICLE: Raconteur – Chatbots are a competitive differentiator for smaller businesses

Rather than reject chatbots as sophisticated tech for big businesses, smaller companies can benefit from introducing the technology

Chatbot technology is often dismissed by small and medium‐ sized enterprises (SMEs) as overly complicated, cost prohibitive and better suited to bigger firms.

However, SMEs are wrong to be so hasty. Chatbots, interactive software platforms located in apps, live chat, email and SMS, can save smaller companies time and money, provide scale at little cost and generate new sales leads.

According to Alf Rehn, professor of innovation, design and management at the University of Southern Denmark, chatbots are a great way for SMEs to start experimenting with technology that is far less complicated than perceived, but which can reap big rewards in the future.

“Tagging chatbots as artificial intelligence can overwhelm people, yet most, even the best, use very simple technology,” says Professor Rehn. “Most have narrow agency and understand a very definite subset of things, like where parcels are or a company’s returns policy,” he explains.

Firms can incorporate chatbot technology into their websites, apps and other channels to work alongside sales and customer service teams for huge efficiency gains and cost‐ savings.

For example, one employee can manage five machine agents, giving a total workforce of, say, three people and fifteen machines. The bots can manage the simple and most common customer requests, while a sales operative can support customers with more complex queries.

“This delivers enormous productivity gains at low cost, meaning firms get a quicker return on their investment,” says Edward Winfield, UK sales director at Content Guru, a cloud communications company.

According to a report by Juniper Research, by 2023 chatbots will bring $11 billion in combined cost‐savings for retail, banking and healthcare business sectors as a replacement for customer service representatives.