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By Norah Denley

Technology is evolving and many companies are jumping on board using chatbots. A bot is a service powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence that is used to automate tasks.

Bots include a wide variety of technology ranging from Microsoft’s 1990s office assistant Clippy, to modern day Apple’s Siri. Chatbots, as the name implies, are a subset of bots that engages directly with people. For example, Aetna’s “Ann” is one type of chatbot. “Ann” is the company’s virtual online assistant that provides members with personalized guidance to find health benefits information. Since sometimes using text can be inconvenient, some chatbots are designed to respond to voice commands. Voice assistants are a type of chatbot that allow always on, hands-free access to information and services. Amazon’s Echo (powered by Alexa) is one of the currently popular standalone voice assistants.

You might have used some of these chatbots without even knowing it. Chatbots are a fast-growing area, but they should be used strategically. If you are thinking about adding chatbots as an option to engage your consumers, check out LIMRA’S Six Best Practices for Using Chatbots below:

  1. Set clear goals – and realistic expectations.
    Using chatbots is still new to most people.  Platform providers and companies are still working out the kinks. The most common uses of Alexa include finding information, listening to music, and controlling home devices — not learning about insurance products. So, keep expectations in check.
  2. Focus on convenience. 
    Consumers are turning to digital assistants to make their lives easier. Successful chatbots will support this goal.
  3. Know your customers’ journeys.
    What are they trying to accomplish, and how can you help?
  4. Format matters.
    Provide the right solutions in the right format. For example, voice-only digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home are suited to short questions and straightforward answers, rather than a long list of choices. Voice AI can provide a single answer to a complex question with relatively low user effort (“How much did I spend at Target last month?”). Bots on visual platforms can easily return lots of information for users to navigate through by using menu items in addition to free-form text (“Purchases made in the last month”).
  5. Rules-based or AI?
    The fanciest chatbot isn’t necessarily the best. Ordering a pizza, for example, is probably easier/less expensive to program with a rules-based bot, and having options to select from is easier for the user as well.
  6. Keep the connection.
    Even Facebook admits that it’s still early days for chatbots. Successful chat programs integrate bots with people, using bots for basic support and/or to transition customers to the appropriate support person when needed.

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