Here’s a question for you: if you run an online store that is always open and is available to customers in every time zone, how do you provide the best customer service experience? For those of you who answered “Stay Online 24 Hours a Day!”, I admire your dedication but I don’t think there’s enough coffee in the world to make that work. A more realistic solution that many companies use is to use a Live Chat feature that lets customers leave a message when you’re not online. But what if there was a way to answer customers’ questions in real time, even when you aren’t there?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Chat Bot” recently, and how Chat Bots will be the way we interact with our computers in the future. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I see great opportunities in creating Chat Bots for WooCommerce online stores.

Chat Bots Don’t Need Coffee

What is a Chat Bot, anyway? A Chat Bot is a little program that can respond to questions right in the chat window—a robotic customer service rep or personal shopper. They are the (much more intelligent) descendants of those automatic telephone systems that have you tell them what you want instead of playing multiple choice with numbered options.

Imagine: a customer with insomnia decides to get some shopping done at 2am. She goes to your website and finds some products she is interested in, but she has some questions about fit, or size, or care instructions.

Instead of sending a message using a contact form and waiting for you to get back to you (or giving up on your site entirely), she can start a Live Chat with a Chat Bot that has been programmed to respond to common customer inquiries.

The Bot answers her questions, and she places her order right then and there. Meanwhile, you’ve been sleeping soundly and wake up to another new order at your store.

Systems like this have been in development for years, but only recently have they become smart enough to do anything except answer the most basic, specifically-worded questions. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Slack, and Google have invested billions of dollars into improving the performance of natural-language artificial intelligence programs and that research has tricked down into other fields, like chat.

But the thing that really lit a fire under the Chat Bot market was when Facebook got into the game.

Facebook Messenger Chat Bots: A Robot Friend for Everyone

In April 2016 Facebook announced that not only had they developed a smart Chat Bot running on their Messenger platform, they were going to open that Chat Bot up for everyone to use. This is huge: instead of going through the considerable effort of building their own AIs to run Chat Bots, companies can use Facebook Messenger and build their Bot on top of the AI that Facebook has already developed and trained.

Even better, with integration plugins you can use Facebook Messenger as Live Chat on your own site, as well as using it on your business’s Facebook page. And when you’re online you can tell your Chat Bot to take a break and answer questions yourself.

The biggest advantage that Facebook Messenger Bots hold over other Chat Bots is that most of your customers are already using Facebook and Facebook Messenger. They’re familiar with the interface, they already have an account, and already have an established trust relationship with it. This gives you a huge head start in getting your customers comfortable with connecting with your business via chat.

Setting Up Facebook Messenger Chat Bots for WooCommerce Websites

Facebook Messenger’s Bot API makes it feasible to create Chat Bots for WooCommerce websites run by small businesses. To start using a Facebook Messenger Chat Bot on your WooCommerce website, you need two things:

  1. A Facebook Messenger Bot that is connected to your site so it knows all about your store and its products; and
  2. A Plugin that lets you integrate the Facebook Messenger chat window directly on your site.

You can skip #2, but customers will have to leave your site to go to Facebook or the Messenger App in order to chat, which adds complexity and confusion to the whole process.

The Facebook Messenger Bot API is still new and the product landscape is very much in flux. So I’m not going to make any product recommendations at this point, but will update this article with results of my testing once the market matures a bit.

That said, here are some options that are out there today for creating Facebook Messenger Chat Bots for WooCommerce:

And here are plugins that will add the Facebook Messenger Chat window to your WordPress + WooCommerce site:

Tips for Building Useful (and Friendly) Chat Bots for WooCommerce

Whichever tools you use to bring your Chat Bot to life, here are some things to consider in order to make your Chat Bot as useful as possible to your customers:

  • What are the most common questions you get from your customers?
  • What are the most common reasons customers have for requesting returns or refunds? How can a Chat Bot help head those issues off before the sale is made?
  • Are there any pre-purchase concerns or anxieties that customers might have, and how can your Chat Bot help allay them?
  • What kind of questions can the Chat Bot ask the Customer to get a better idea of what the Customer needs?

Most of all, remember that to be worthwhile a Chat Bot needs to make buying from your store easier. A Chat Bot that’s simply a novelty item, or that makes the purchase process more complicated or frustrating, is worse that not having after-hours customer service at all.

Integrating Facebook Messenger Chat with your WooCommerce store is a huge opportunity to expand your store’s selling exposure, and a way for you to be in more than one place at once. So dive in to the brave new world of Chat Bots and AI, but remember that no matter what technology you use to run your business and help increase your sales, the goal is always the same: to help the customer and provide them with an unforgettable, exceptional experience at your store.