What Are Chatbots? How To Add Chatbots to Your Shopify Store

chatbots on left, right is silhouette of online chat conversation

Enhancing and improving your customer service operation by hiring more employees is no small feat. You have to find the right candidates, train them in your company’s policies and standards of service, find people to manage them, and constantly deal with inevitable employee churn. To help close the gap and take the burden off your customer service reps, many companies turn to automated chatbot tools to handle basic customer queries and improve customer experience.

Chatbot platforms have rapidly advanced in recent years. They might be what you need to level up your company’s customer support system (and possibly save some money in the long run). Here’s how chatbots work and how to implement them.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots are software applications that simulate human conversation to provide information to users, effectively replacing human customer service representatives. Customers interact with chatbots as though they’re speaking to another person, asking questions, and making statements using regular conversational syntax—the chatbot replies using similar syntax, creating the illusion of one-on-one dialogue.

Chatbots aren’t limited to your website. Companies use them on social media (such as with Facebook Messenger or with Twitter chatbots), email, and SMS or messaging apps to answer frequently asked questions or handle unique customer service requests.

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Some businesses use chatbots on automated phone lines, through which they can help customers schedule appointments or check account balances. A growing field of chatbot technology uses virtual assistants, like Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, which can execute more complex tasks and hold vocal conversational exchanges with human customers.

What are the benefits of chatbots?

Chatbots provide value to large corporations and small businesses, which might explain why 42% of business-to-consumer (B2C) companies and 58% of business-to-business (B2B) companies use chatbots on their websites. Chatbots offer four critical benefits:

Dynamic information

Chatbots provide more precise, adaptable information than static FAQ lists on web pages. Because a chatbot simulates human conversation, customers can ask specific questions rather than settle for broad, pre-formulated answers.

Speedy information retrieval

In most cases, chatbots work faster than human customer service agents. They are, after all, computers. Chatbots fetch information in a matter of seconds, which can improve customer satisfaction and boost conversion rates.

Lower costs

Investing in a chatbot platform can require a hefty initial financial commitment. However, chatbots are far less expensive over time than training and employing a human workforce. Companies looking to improve their bottom line often turn to chatbot computer programs.

Room to scale up

Human customer support can create bottlenecks when there aren’t enough agents to handle every inquiry. Chatbots can handle far larger volumes of requests at once while engaging clients with the cadence of a live chat. One bot can do the job of many humans.

Types of chatbots

  1. Rule-based chatbots
  2. Conversational chatbots

Over the years, chatbot development has produced two main types of chatbots: rule-based chatbots and predictive conversational chatbots. Both can serve small business needs, though conversational commerce chatbots are more sophisticated and cost more to implement.

1. Rule-based chatbots

Also known as declarative or task-oriented chatbots, rule-based chatbots are usually on websites that answer common queries. They use simple computer programs where specific customer inputs generate specific chatbot outputs. If a rule-based chatbot is well programmed, it can produce conversational language but remains relatively limited in answering complex questions.

2. Conversational chatbots

Also known as conversational agents, predictive or artificial intelligence chatbots, conversational chatbots use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and natural language processing (NLP) to generate human-like dialogue. 

AI technology helps conversational chatbots adapt to the cadences and nuances of a customer’s speech in real time. They can also track customer preferences to produce more qualified leads than rules-based chatbots. AI chatbots perform best when accessing large datasets, such as those stored in a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) software.

How to implement a chatbot

You can add a chatbot to your ecommerce store by partnering with a chatbot vendor. These vendors develop proprietary software to handle AI and natural language processing and tailor their platforms to customer interactions, such as checking order status and answering product questions.

Shopify’s platform makes it easy to integrate a chatbot. Either with Shopify Inbox or Shopify-compatible chatbots in our Shopify App Store. Popular vendors include Zendesk Chat, Zowie, Certainly, and DeepConverse. Most offer free trials, but expect to spend hundreds of dollars for a monthly subscription once the trial expires.

The best part is you don’t have to be a master programmer to add a chatbot to your online store. Vendors typically provide tech support to help you load a chatbot as an application programming interface (API). Some provide simple lines of HTML5 code to add to your website, while others use drag-and-drop modules that make it easy to create chatbot scripts.

Chatbots FAQ

What are chatbots used for?

Chatbots simulate interpersonal conversation. A computer program mimics the language and cadence of a human assistant or customer service agent to provide information in an engaging, responsive manner.

What are the different types of chatbots?

There are two main types of chatbots: rule-based and conversational. Rule-based chatbots are programmed to generate specific responses to specific kinds of questions. Conversational chatbots, the more advanced type, use AI and natural language processing to interact with humans in a more adaptive, dynamic fashion. However, these require far more computer processing power and cost more to implement.

What are some examples of chatbots?

Chatbots appear on websites as dialogue boxes where users can type their questions. They can function through email clients and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook Messenger. Chatbots can also power automated phone systems, where a human-like voice guides callers and answers questions.

Customers increasingly interact with chatbots via virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant.

What is the difference between AI and a chatbot?

Artificial intelligence is a type of computer programming that uses machine-based learning to recalibrate itself using real-world data. The best AI adapts to complex human-created scenarios and theoretically improves over time. On the other hand, a chatbot is a piece of software that mimics human dialogue. Sophisticated chatbots are powered by AI, using its data processing power to simulate human responses convincingly.