In this 6-part series, we’ll address how chatbots are changing the game for law firm intake. This is part 1, where we’ll answer the most basic question of all.
So, what is a chatbot? The best way to answer that question is to deconstruct it. You probably know what a chat is; basically, it’s an online conversation via text-based messaging (NOT text or SMS messaging, in this context). Remember AOL Instant Messenger, which was so popular at the advent of the internet age? That was a chat service. Google Hangouts — that started out as a chat service. Chat is nothing more than an online conversation, most often engaged via a widget (small box) that differentiates the remainder of your screen real estate from the chat. Now, the majority of chat is ‘live’ chat, or in-person conversations — whether that’s you talking to a friend, or you talking to a representative of a business, employee or contractor. A chatbot (bot = robot) automates the conversation. This is a human interacting with a set series of questions, or a machine (software) that can provide real-time answers via natural language processing and/or machine learning.
Obviously, chatbots are of limited or negligible usefulness in the context of personal conversations: If you need to, or want to, use a chatbot when talking with a friend — that’s just weird, honestly. However, in a business context, there is a significant advantage to offloading the duty of conversation to a bot. If you’re an attorney, it saves you from answering the phone or messaging directly with leads or existing clients. That means you can spend more time working and making more money. You only need to intervene for off-book, unplanned conversations; as long as chats conform to a predetermined workflow or process, or can answer some unexpected questions using NLP and/or machine learning, there are likely to be relatively few instances in which a human needs to inject herself into generic conversations. Now, if you’re an attorney who is currently using staff or a contractor (even a contract service, like a virtual receptionist or live chat) to engage leads, a chatbot could replace all or part of the traditional intake role for a fraction of the cost, and is available 24/7. But, this doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to go about firing staff; technologies like chatbots can also augment or assist the work of law firm staffpersons. If you free up your office manager from answering phones, he may be able to focus on additional duties, or refocus on duties he had been neglecting whenever the phone rang or a website contact form was submitted. Because you can integrate a chatbot product into your existing technology stack, like case management software and CRM, the chatbot service can be seamlessly added to your existing, or improved, workflows.
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Now that you know what a chatbot is, and how it works, we’ll focus next time on discrete chatbot features. Stay tuned, right here.