We’ve discussed the UX of chatbots in the past, and when done right, they have a lot to offer. But one question that many business owners ask is whether chatbots should be replacing their web forms.
We can’t blame you for wondering.
Chatbots are a form of conversational marketing that is more personal and interactive by nature. In comparison, web forms can come across as cold, tedious, dull and inflexible. And don’t get us started on autofill – a blessing or a curse. Then there’s the waiting … and waiting …
But despite all the hype surrounding chatbots and the death of web forms, the answer isn’t so simple.
For one, your web form design should follow good design and form UX principles to not suffer from the issues listed above. Second, everything has its place.
So, should you dive headfirst into chatbots, leaving the world of web forms to the distant past? Let’s take a more in-depth look.
Can Chatbots Replace Forms?
While chatbots are not a perfect technology, and they take a lot of work and testing to get going, there are bots available to replace any of the forms your site uses.
For simple forms that remain consistent across your audience, rule-based bots make effective substitutes. Otherwise known as conversational forms, rule-based bots are chatbots that stick to pre-defined flows and choices. They don’t rely on machine learning (ML) or natural language processing (NLP).
AI chatbots that do incorporate natural language processing can understand unique contexts and adapt to individual customer inquiries.
It’s important to note that a natural language form is different from natural language processing.
A natural language form is a type of web form that weaves data entry points together to read more like a sentence with fill-in-the-blank options. Each blank space has a drop-down list of choices.
Natural language processing gives conversational AI chatbots the ability to interpret, understand and respond to what a user types.
Rule-based bots are cheaper, faster and easier to build than AI bots, but which one you use will depend on what best meets users’ needs. You can use rule-based bots to replace simple forms, but you’ll need AI bots when context matters.
A growing number of businesses use bots to handle simple queries and data collection:
- In a study of 500 business leaders, chatbots averaged a 67% increase in sales and a 24% increase in customer satisfaction scores.
- About 52% of users repurchase from companies with chat support.
- The best chatbots achieve 80% to 90% response rates, while lesser performing bots still earn 35% to 40% response rates.
Regardless of these statistics, chatbots serve best in specific settings and do a better job replacing certain kinds of forms.
What Kind of Forms Can Chatbots Replace?
Common forms chatbots can replace include:
- Contact forms
- Order forms with preset choices
- Basic support forms (if limitations are clear)
- Surveys and quizzes
- Feedback forms
But because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. Whether you should replace your forms with chatbots is a decision best made after understanding the pros and cons of doing so and evaluating how they apply to your business and audience.
Pros of Using Chatbots Over Web Forms
Imagine you walk into a store, browse the selection and have a question about a product. Now, instead of there being a helpful customer service representative with answers in hand, you’re forced to answer several questions. You finally get through them all, only to find out that you don’t even know when you’ll receive your answer.
When used at the wrong time and without the right UX strategy, this is how web forms feel to site visitors. It’s such a terrifying prospect that Drift has even made comedy skits about the horror.
It’s also why 50% of entrepreneurs claim that chatbots convert better than web forms.
Chatbots offer a proactive solution that can reach out to customers, making themselves available to help in real time. They also reduce bounce rates by providing engaging conversational dialogues (contrary to one-sided forms) and offering immediate answers.
And while chatbot systems aren’t real people, some users prefer not having to talk to a real person. They’re given more control and can feel comfortable ending the conversation whenever they please.
Bots also remove frustration in the form of error submissions that force users to go back and re-enter information. Instead, if an answer is unsatisfactory to a chatbot, it’s addressed immediately instead of surprising the user later.
Conversational interfaces with advanced capabilities further improve completion rates by being able to help users along the way. If a person has a problem with a question, they can get the clarification they need by asking the bot.
Chatbots can also use conditional sequences to mimic and amplify the benefits of using smart form scenarios. This means adjusting the questions and information they provide users based on the answers received and unique user scenarios.
This level of customization allows chatbots to benefit the business as much as the user, for many can segment your audiences, identify your strongest leads and track goals for you. If appropriate, you can expand their use and enhance your data by using the chatbot across several channels, including your website, social profiles and email.
Cons of Using Chatbots Over Web Forms
There are two sides to every coin, and the same goes for the effectiveness of replacing web forms with chatbots.
The CEO of BotAnalytics, Ilker Köksal, speaks on the user abandonment of chatbots:
“About 40 percent of users never get past the first text, and another 25 percent drop off after the second message.”
Interestingly, this matches the 35% response rate of less engaging chatbots discussed earlier, but that statistic was positive. It shows that your perspective makes a difference, and what matters is how that rate compares to your web form response rate.
But there are downsides to chatbots and reasons why a web form may perform better. For one, with chatbots, you never know how long the conversation will take, whereas a web form reveals all questions – and with it, the required level of investment – right off.
Chatbots are also a new tool to many users, and people are most comfortable with what they’re familiar with. This is a friction point for all new technology, and you can’t hide from the future, but you can make it easier to adjust to. For users who are new to chatbots, design the bot to take up more of the web page instead of a sidebar that people tend to identify as spam. Make CTAs clear so that audiences aren’t surprised when taken to a bot.
Another concern for many users is privacy. The conversational and friendly exchange chatbots offer can come across as less secure. For this reason, web forms tend to feel more formal and provide a sense of safety when dealing with card information and more official exchanges.
Be Careful With Facebook Chatbots
There are many ways to use Facebook messenger for your business, and one growing tool is the Facebook bot. The social platform offers easy-to-use chatbots for businesses, but we recommend carefully considering any third-party tool before making it one of your most important touchpoints.
For example, a Facebook chatbot may work for your website, but there are risks to account for:
- There’s a growing distrust of Facebook’s data privacy.
- It may ask users to allow tracking notifications.
- Users may have to log in to their account.
From forgotten passwords to annoyance with extra steps, all of the above may deter leads.
Should Chatbots Replace Your Web Forms?
So, in the war of chatbots vs. web forms, who wins? The answer is that it’s the wrong question to be asking.
Doing the right thing for your business is less about whether chatbots are better than forms and more about how we can use both together effectively. One doesn’t always trump the other, and which one you should use depends on which one best fits the unique context, your product and audience’s needs.
The goal is usually to decrease the time and effort it takes for users to complete a task and provide a better user experience. Conversational interfaces can take longer with their back and forth, but they can also respond faster and be more enjoyable.
If you’re dealing with nuanced situations, chatbot technology might work better. If you’re looking for easy, fast conversions for a newsletter pop-up, a short form may be more convenient.
In some instances, providing both a form and chatbot option could capture more leads or inquiries by meeting a range of audience preferences. Studies show that chatbots won’t cannibalize your other lead forms, and mixing it up may prevent fatigue from using multiple chatbots or forms.
With all design and UX decisions, testing is your best bet. Make a hypothesis, implement, test and compare the results. You’ll learn which method works best for your business at various touchpoints.
Optimize Your Strategy for Conversion
Web form, chatbot or combination of the two – regardless of the strategy you settle on, you’ll want to make sure you’re optimizing your choice for results. Web forms and chatbots have the power to convert or ruin the user experience, and it all comes down to how well you design them. So if none of the above appears to be working, ensure that it’s not due to poor design on your end.
Whether you’re using a chatbot or web form, don’t prioritize collecting data over the user experience. This means staying mindful of users’ time, providing value and not asking too many questions.
With chatbots, ensure that CTAs are clear and that users can take the intended action. If they want to contact you or solve a problem, they should be able to do that quickly and without going on a detour.
When you design forms, use features like drop-down lists and checkboxes when possible to make form-filling easier. To get the most from your contact forms, enhance your website form data with third-party tools.
You Can’t Put Off the Future
Chatbots are the future, but as of now, web forms have a place in that future too. Blindly following trends or refusing to accept change isn’t an effective way to conduct business.
Moving forward, whether you choose to use chatbots and whether they replace your web forms should depend on your business and audience. Which will your site visitors enjoy using, feel safe using, provide the answers they seek, position your brand and product appropriately, speed up task times, and can you implement well?
These are some of the questions you’ll want to ask yourself and continue to test as you work to improve your user experience and conversion rates.
Need help finding the answers? Reach out to the UX experts.