The one simple question our bot asks that saves our sales team hours

Main illustration: Emi Tagore Erwin

As the rise of bots and automation continues apace, a lot of people are wondering how the sales process and lead qualification will be affected by this fast-evolving technology.

Some are even asking if salespeople are at risk of being eclipsed by chatbots altogether. But a fairly simple example of how the Intercom bot, Operator, helped our sales conversations illuminates what we think that future might look like in practice.

Working as sales development representatives at Intercom, we deal with a huge volume of conversations with potential leads that come in through live chat. We strive to qualify them as quickly and efficiently as possible, and we’re always highly conscious of giving leads the best possible experience.

Up until relatively recently we faced a recurring issue that took up a lot of our time – an anonymous website visitor who begins a conversation via our messenger could be a brand new lead, meaning we would commence the qualification process. However, those anonymous conversations might also be an existing customer who at that time was logged out of Intercom. It made lead qualification more difficult than it needed to be.

In those situations, it might take a bit of back and forth before we realized they weren’t getting in touch to inquire about becoming a customer, but were actually reaching out to ask for support. We would then have to send the conversation to our colleagues in customer support, and brief them on the nature of the query.

This was obviously time consuming for us, as it meant we weren’t getting to the conversations we needed to get to, and above all it was a poor experience for our existing customers, as they waited to have their questions answered by the right person.

Enter our chatbot to help lead qualification

And then our chatbot stepped in to the rescue. Operator automates repetitive tasks and questions in live chat, and a new conversation routing skill offered a simple, elegant way of making sure anonymous conversations went to the right team. Towards the start of every conversation, our bot would ask “Are you an Intercom customer?”, with two simple choices: “Yes, I’m a customer” or “No, I’m not a customer yet.”

Intercom Operator question

If they answered “No, I’m not a customer yet,” Operator would assign them to our sales team (it can also take qualification steps if you have it configured to do so). If they answered “Yes, I’m a customer,” Operator asks for their contact details and routes them to our Customer Support team.

That might seem like a simple little step, but it dramatically changed the state of our inboxes — more than two-thirds of anonymous leads answered the question, and about half were existing customers. Needless to say, they weren’t looking to talk to the sales team, meaning a dramatic drop in the number of conversations we were having to engage in, leading to significant time savings for the whole team.

This is a perfect example of where a chatbot can actually make the customer experience more personal

The impact took us by surprise, but the result was immediately noteworthy — this seemingly simple step really improved the customer journey. Furthermore, when combined with Intercom’s new account ownership feature, which allows leads to be assigned an owner in the sales team who will automatically be connected to any new conversation, the experience for prospects became much smoother at every touchpoint.

Extra context for lead qualification

Even for smaller companies that don’t have dedicated sales and support teams, there is a significant advantage to having that extra context right from the outset.

Beyond the improved experience for existing and prospective customers, and the amount of time we saved, these results highlight an important aspect of how a bot can complement our workflow — rather than foreshadowing a future where chatbots replace salespeople, this is a perfect example of a situation where a bot can actually make the customer experience more personal.

Now, we’ve given a lot of thought about how our bot should behave, and we have put a lot of thought into every step and interaction our bot engages in. By setting expectations and prioritizing helpful interactions that do a clear job, Operator tries to get out of the way of the personal relationship between the lead and the SDR.

When people consider how personal experiences with businesses can operate at scale, and whether automation can coexist with such personal experiences, we think this is a useful little example of what that balance looks like in practice.

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Chatbots for sales – 2019 updated images