What You Need to Know About Chatbots, the Basics

Last Updated on September 22, 2020 by Sean B

Chatbots were first discussed by Alan Turing, an English PC researcher in his 1950 paper, “PC Machinery and Intelligence.” They are small programs that connect directly with people through chat. These connections can be defined by a series of rules or conditions or triggers (rules-based chatbots), or they can be guided by artificial intelligence algorithms (ai chatbots).

There Are A Few Basic Things to Understand About Chatbots

  • They can be proactive or responsive.
  • They can react to clients right away.
  • They can assist you in gathering significant information and gain an advantage from the information gathered.
  • Chatbots can be operational 365 days a year and 24 hours a day, permitting them to serve your clients even while you are asleep or doing other tasks.
  • They can be utilized through a wide range of mediums like SMS, live talk, or internet-chat.

How Are Chatbots Used?

Another thing about chatbots is that there are no limits to how they can be used except your imagination. Companies are using them to handle internal tasks like HR and Ordering as well as Sales and Marketing. Governments and Utilities are using them to let people know about Emergencies and Outages. They are being used to recommend products, sell pizza and track the order to your door, help calm down irate customers before sending them to a real person, and even just entertain.

If you can imagine it, a chatbot can probably handle the task for you. But let’s take a look at some of the more common uses.

Chatbots for sales - a store employee answers a call forwarded by the store's chatbot.


A sales chatbot might be used to help you purchase the right item or even recommend other items that are available.

Let’s say you wanted to buy a watch. On an online store without a chatbot, you would go to their site, search around until you find the watch you wanted, and then make your purchase.

If that same store had a chatbot, you would be able to simply message them on Facebook. The chatbot would ask you what you are looking for and you would simply… well, tell it what brand and model you want to purchase. The chatbot could pull that watch up to make sure it was the right one and even offer some alternatives. Maybe another similar watch was on sale, or the next model up was just released. Your shopping just got easier, and more fun.

Customer Support

A customer support chatbot can answer frequently asked questions (FAQ), help customers track orders, make cancellations, or direct customers to the right department for higher-level support.

Having a solid customer support process in place is an indispensable component of any business. This used to require a toll-free number for larger companies and a large FAQ for smaller companies. Today all of that can be handled with a single chatbot.

Research says that 80% of people purchase stuff online, but if they have trouble finding on your site, they may abandon their shopping cart. Your clients may need help finding the specific item they need, or advice about other items that are better suited to their needs, or even items that are on sale.

In every one of these circumstances, chatbots can help like a salesman in an actual store. Additionally, chatbots can chat with customers in a way to them understand the customer’s needs. Moreover, alongside text and voice, they can deliver rich content pages to the customer when needed including, pictures, blog sections, instructional videos, and more depending on the reader’s reaction to their chat.

Marketing Plan showing how to use Chatbots for Marketing


Marketing chatbots can help increase email marketing lists, share information about new products, drive traffic to specific areas of the site with awareness campaigns, run drip campaigns for returning customers, and check on anyone who has been idle on the site.

Marketing is another area where the use of a chatbot can show immediate improvement. Chatbots have proven they can reduce bounce rate by helping customers find what they need on bigger websites. They have also shown they can carry email campaigns online through improved drip campaigns and they can dramatically improve brand and product awareness.

Using a conversational chatbot to let website visitors know about new or related products or ask survey questions in a conversational tone can provide a dramatic response.

Human Resources

Human resources chatbots can help onboard new employees, let employees schedule vacations, place orders for equipment, or book conference rooms or other company assets.

Using a human resources chatbot to handle the basic tasks can make things run more smoothly and reduce costs for most companies. Combining that with an asset management system where employees can order supplies and equipment, or reserve rooms means the service can take several of the simpler tasks away from your staff and further improve your bottom line.


Emergency Services

Emergency or disaster-related chatbots can help let users know about service interruptions, oncoming storms, and in the case of the Coronavirus Pandemic, they are being used to let people know about testing locations and safety measures and restrictions.

This is one of the most exciting areas in which chatbots are being used. During dangerous situations, chatbots can be programmed to raise awareness by alerting visitors to ever-changing situations. During a Hurricane or Earthquake, chatbots can be used to let people know where the nearest Emergency Shelter is, or the quickest evacuation route.

For medical situations, chatbots can be used to keep someone talking and calm while they wait for First Responders. Paired with a smartwatch that can measure the person’s pulse, blood pressure, or in the case of the new Apple Watch, an ECG, the chatbot can alert 911 about changing circumstances.

If the person suffering chest pain doesn’t react to messages inside a specified time, the chatbot can initiate a call to 911 or to the person’s emergency contacts on its own.

For those who live alone, a chatbot with these capabilities could save their life during a cardiac or respiratory crisis. Paired with other devices, like a continuous blood glucose monitor or seizure alert device, and the chatbot can act to save lives across a wide number of diseases and even aid in disease management.

An artificial intelligence chatbot

Where Chatbot Technology Is Today

Today chatbots are becoming integral parts of many websites. But not that long ago, they were novelties.

For chatbots to become the tools they are today has taken years of development in the technology and you need the right team behind your chatbot to make it an effective part of your arsenal. These small programs still need to be designed and constructed by people with the various languages and technologies that we will talk about later in this article and elsewhere on the site.

Looking at why chatbots are made in the first place can be an interesting question. Many seem to have been made for entertainment purposes, but the end goal with every development in technology is to make life better for people. In this case, the key people seem to be consumers, and chatbots like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby have taken that to the extreme, moving beyond chatbot into a new category called Virtual Assistant.

But the reality is that with the right technology and knowledge, anyone can build their own Virtual Assistant because they are simple chatbots that have been trained and learned a huge amount about what people need and have had additional programs added to expand their usefulness.

A friendly robot

Getting Your Own Chatbot: Know What You Need

If you’re running an online store, then odds are you’ve already started to explore the idea of adding a chatbot to your site. The key is to make sure that you have the right chatbot for the job, and to explore all your options and the costs before purchasing or investing in the development of your own chatbot.

If you can get away with a simpler rules-based chatbot, then you may be able to find a free script online to help you build one to meet your needs. If you need something a little smarter, then you need to look at an AI chatbot. The best way to tell which one you’ll need is to ask what sort of questions your customers will be asking, or which kinds of questions you want to be ready for?

For example, if a customer asked a question such as, “would you be able to eat a car?” an AI chatbot would have the ability to determine what a car is and answer no. A rules-based chatbot would need that actual question programmed in to be able to answer it. Today it’s recommended that most chatbots use some form of AI to allow for more fluid conversation and at least some machine learning so they can learn as they are helping your customers.

Reducing Human Errors

People can make mistakes, and during critical tasks like handling a customer return or gathering data for a sale, those mistakes can be costly. Sometimes, the cost of the additional time spent fixing the error negates the profit made from any sale in the first place. Even in the best of cases, the cost of fixing the error eats into company profits.

Letting chatbots handle some of these critical tasks is an ideal approach to deliver error-free administration. The chatbot will collect the information directly from the client and can verify the information for accuracy. This reduction in errors can restore lost profit.

As your website traffic increases, it becomes harder for your staff to keep up with all the messages coming at them, but chatbots don’t have this limitation. They can perform the same task 24 hours a day without error.

The result can include a reduction in the number of complaints and errors as well as an improved reputation online.


Chatbots are here to stay, they have a solid foothold in areas like Sales, Marketing, Human Resources, Customer Service, Healthcare, and Emergency Management. Where they go next is up to the creativity of those who design and develop them. When selecting a chatbot for your own website, I recommend one that utilizes both AI and machine learning with natural language processing (NLP) to make sure it can converse comfortably with your customers and answer questions that may be outside of what you expected.

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4 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Chatbots, the Basics”

    • Marketa, Great, I’ll be working on getting up some additional content about WordPress Chatbots, including more detailed reviews about each of the ones I mentioned in this article soon.

  1. Hi Sean,

    Really interesting and informative article. I have obviously heard of chatbots since I started my own website in January, but I haven’t looked into them at all. I know of a few people who use them and they are far more advanced in the sales, marketing and advertising part of the online business.

    After reading your article it seems apparent to me that chatbots is something that I should definitely look into seriously in the future. They sound like they could be a great tool for when I am more advanced in my own sales and marketing.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work on your site.

    All the best,


    • Tom,
      I’ll be getting my own chatbot live here within the next few weeks, I’m not intending for it to be a sales tool, just something to help people find their way around the website as it grows. That’s where a lot of people start with them. That might be a good place to start looking for you as well.


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