It’s essential to respond to new leads quickly if your business is to capitalise on the enquiry. But many companies just aren’t responding in good time. In fact, according to one recent survey over half of companies take 5 days to respond to a sales lead.
The chances of successfully making contact with the customer decline very rapidly during this timeframe.
Generally speaking, customers want to sort a solution immediately, whether it’s finding a new supplier or booking a meal in a restaurant. If your business takes a working week to respond to their approach, they have plenty of time to sort out a solution by the time you get in touch.
Part of the problem is that many businesses respond to sales leads the old fashioned way. An enquiry that comes in via the website will be added to a list of calls the sales team need to make, or perhaps someone will respond to the email via a shared email inbox.
In a smaller business, there may not even be a dedicated sales person and responding to enquiries has to take place around other tasks.
Unless this model, even the most responsive team is unlikely to be able to respond as quickly as potential customers want and need.
The brush off
It’s common practice for companies to use automated responses to reply to a message from a customer. In most cases, this is just used to confirm that they have received the enquiry and to assure the customer via email they will receive a human reply in due course.
This practice does little to help customers and often frustrates them. All evidence suggests that customers expect a proper response to their enquiry within a much shorter timeframe than most companies achieve.
80% of customers expect a response within 24 hours. But what they really want is to have a response that resolves their enquiry, not an automated email reply that merely offers vague assurance someone will reply properly in due course.
Companies are starting to explore the possibilities for using chatbots to respond to customer enquiries, triage them and respond at scale. These chatbots have the ability to ask questions to qualify and sort leads, just as a sales agent will do during the initial stages of follow-up.
It’s possible to write targeted scripts for chatbots based on which pages of the website a customer has visited ahead of making an enquiry.
Using chatbots helps a sales team assess which lead enquiries need to be prioritised, and by triaging leads it’s possible to manage sales teams more efficiently. It means sales teams can respond to the best and most promising enquiries, saving those leads that are judged to be of lower quality or lesser value.
This helps teams negotiate between lead quantity and lead quality as they decide their priorities and workflow. Chatbots are also highly useful to smooth out peaks in enquiry volume that follow periods of marketing activity.
It can be a way to manage labour costs and maximise efficiencies by focusing human attention on the most fruitful leads.
Chatbots also reduce the amount of time customers need to spend filling out forms in order to make their enquiry. It also means they don’t necessarily have to part with their information, which is often something customers are highly reluctant to do. Instead, they open the enquiry immediately and the customer is instantly engaging with your business by conversing with the chatbot.
It’s a better way of building a relationship compared to making them fill out a form handing over their personal details, and then sending a confirmation email that doesn’t do anything to assist with their enquiry.
Using chatbots also reflects the reality of how customers choose to communicate with your business, or with anyone else for that matter.
Customers don’t want to be restricted to making contact inside office hours, and they don’t want to restrict their communications to email and phone calls – their communication repertoire also includes instant messaging. Chatbots are more able to respond in the customer’s manner and time of choosing.
The important thing to remember is that chatbots assist rather than replace your sales team. In fact, chatbots should be able to help the team perform better by reducing the time they spend on fruitless leads and help them focus on higher-value leads that are more likely to yield commission.
The sales team needs to be involved with tailoring the chatbot script and this needs to be an ongoing exercise, as the script is tweaked to respond to the latest marketing campaigns.
The property market
With an estimated 90% of estate agent’s time being spent prospecting for leads, chatbots have a lot to offer the property industry. By using chatbots to respond to a house hunter’s initial enquiry, estate agencies can gather basic information such as their budget and the area they are looking in.
It’s thought that customers may even prefer to engage with chatbots because they are less likely to be pressured by an agent. It’s a way for companies to pre-screen calls, but also assess which are particularly in need of a human touch.
One of the disadvantages of using AirBnB to book a place to stay used to be that non-professional renters simply didn’t respond as quickly as guests wanted. That often meant that by the time the host responded about a booking enquiry, the guest had already found somewhere else to stay.
Airbnb responded by implementing instant booking, which automatically sends a confirmation on behalf of the host to the guest telling them their stay is booked.
Unpopular with some hosts, who preferred to vet each guest before agreeing to let them stay, the feature is very popular with users who want to sort out their accommodation instantly.
Around half of the properties on the site can now be booked instantly, however, this is partly because Airbnb insists new hosts signing up to the service adopt instant booking. The move to instant booking helped AirBnB see off competition from Booking.com.
Airbnb has also begun experimenting with chatbots to answer routine guest enquiries, such as what the WIFI password is. If there’s a question that the chatbox can’t answer about a property, it’ll forward the enquiry to the human host.
The way it works is that hosts write out their 16 most commonly asked questions, and the chatbot is set up for them automatically. It’s early days so far for this technology, but Airbnb is using chatbots to support human users and relieve pressure on hosts to create a better customer experience. So far, chatbots are helping to support, not replace, humans.