By Srivatsan Laxman

A lot of chatbots have the artificial down pat—but the intelligence, not so much. In fact, many of the assistants that are marketed as AI-powered nowadays are just  simple menu-driven bots that create more problems than profit for your business.

Typically, chatbots designed for business perform poorly because they don’t truly grasp what customers are asking. They may do fine with basic inquiries and noncomplex interactions. But if a customer jumps to a topic that is not on your assistant’s script or asks a question that your bot is not set up to understand—as people often do—your chatbot will lose its way.

And you could lose the customer, who is now frustrated and angry with your business. The upshot: a tool that you implemented with the hope of engaging your customers ends up pushing them away. And that can cost you real money—especially if those angry customers start giving you one-star reviews at Yelp.

What you need is a truly intelligent and conversational AI assistant that can hold natural interactions with your customers. One that can have a relationship-based chat and give a customer the correct answers to questions. This will deliver satisfied customers, higher productivity and increased profitability. A win-win-win.

Let’s say you’re running a dog-grooming business. Your customers and prospects are getting in touch throughout the day to ask myriad questions: Do you have a webcam? Do you give massages? Is Nigel available to shampoo my Madison tomorrow, because Nigel is the only groomer who doesn’t get my little Maddy totally stressed out.

A simple chatbot just won’t have the answers. Whereas a truly intelligent AI assistant will listen to customers’ questions and answer intelligently a very high percentage of the time.

To ensure that this happens, here are four questions you should ask yourself when choosing an AI Assistant

1: Can your AI Assistant get familiar with customers and have lifelike conversations?

AI assistants can remember customer preferences and address customers by their names. Traditional chatbots cannot. Today’s top bots know what products or services a customer has enjoyed in the past. And that means they can help improve your business by suggesting new products, services or special offers to specific customers.

2: Does AI Assistant learn as it goes?

A good AI assistant improves with time. As it handles more interactions with customers and holds more conversations, it grows. The capacity to do this is what puts conversational AI several steps ahead of yesterday’s assistants and chatbots. With each exchange, a good AI assistant gets smarter and adds to its expertise in your line of business.

The key is learning. A truly intelligent assistant will learn anytime it encounters a new, unscripted interaction. How? For this to happen, there must be human trainers involved. These trainers will help your assistant when necessary and then, with each exchange, the AI will get more independent, as it builds knowledge based on its thousands of conversations.

For example, let’s say you own a pizza parlor and a customer gets in touch to ask if you have vegetarian pizza and if it’s 100% organic. If your AI assistant doesn’t have the answer at its fingertips, it should then contact a human trainer to ask for the information. That information should at that point be coded into the system, so your assistant can supply it the next time it gets the organic-vegetarian-pizza question.

3: Is your AI Assistant customizable?

Run-of-the-mill chatbots tend not to be customizable. But today’s truly intelligent AI assistants can be configured to the particular workflows and requirements of your business.

Let’s go back to your pizza parlor. What you need here is an AI assistant that can be programmed to deal with all the details of how your business works, including how you handle coupons, how you accommodate birthday parties for kids, how you handle cancellations and a thousand other things. If an AI assistant can’t be customized to optimize your business, you’re not getting the most byte for your buck.

4: Can your AI Assistant think on its feet?

Say, for example, you own a local nail salon. A customer calls to cancel her pedicure at 3pm on Saturday. An intelligent AI assistant will know that another customer called earlier to ask about a manicure at that same time and will go back to that customer to ask if she’s still interested. This is just one example of the many ways an intelligent AI assistant can generate more revenue for your business.

AI assistants now play a vital role in our digital economy. Indeed, Gartner forecasts that by 2020 the average consumer will have more conversations with robots each day than with their spouse. If you can ensure that the majority of those conversations go well, your business will benefit.

Srivatsan Laxman is the founder and CEO of FrontdeskAI.

AI Assistant stock photo by ArchMan/Shutterstock