social delta

Consulting and support for social enterprise in Canada

Tag: marketing

Chatbots in social enterprise

Some estimates state that 80% of all companies will use chatbots to generate leads or build customer loyalty in the next few years. How does this, and how should this, affect social enterprises?

First, what is a chatbot? It is an automated “instant message” discussion that “pops up” on a website or social media platform to engage the potential customer with either a text or voice conversation. The goal of a chatbot is to mimic genuine human interaction through clever writing and the use of artificial intelligence. In some cases sophisticated algorithms combined with user data ensure the outputs are as personalized as possible, only more efficient.

Chatbots typically start with an open question, such as “How can I help you today?” Users who choose to engage will often ask a question that can be answered by one of perhaps hundreds of pre-programmed responses (Chatbots, then become a customer service robot that can access an almost infinite number of responses in a Frequently Asked Questions database).  As the “conversation” proceeds, the bot typically will request a prospect/customer’s name and email address and remarkably, statistics show that the majority of site visitors will actually provide that information (which is very hard to get via other customer development tools and activities).

Chatbots are counter intuitive to many marketing professionals, and to social change entrepreneurs. They challenge the notion that personal interaction is one of the most effective ways to generate leads, build loyalty, and engage customers. The thought that artificial intelligence can do this work for social enterprise may feel, somehow…wrong. Duplicitous even.  

However, chatbots are tireless workers who never need time off, can respond to thousands of interactions simultaneously, and can create new leads from browsing users, effectively deliver key messages or marketing promotions, and can, in fact, answer the majority of basic questions. Websites are static, whereas chatbots create the illusion of dynamic interaction. If a user wants to find out the store’s opening hours on the long weekend, they can choose to find that information on what might be thousands of pages on the website…or they can simply ask the chatbot and have a response in seconds. However, it is important to recognize that chatbots should not compensate for bad web design, they should augment an easily navigated website.

There are some downsides, of course. Estimates suggest that the programming and technology required to create an effective chatbot can cost $20-$30K. This is a lot for an early stage business, and it may be difficult to justify without concrete proof that it will help bolster sales and the customer relationship. Investing in a chatbot, fundamentally requires a leap of faith, and it can also diminish (or deplete) available funds for other forms of marketing. It is not surprising that the relatively simple-to-use chatbot plugin for Facebook has become common. From the 2016 launch to mid-2018, there were over 300,000 active chatbots on Facebook.

Also, chatbots need to be able to pass the (prospective) customer to a live agent if the customer becomes frustrated, or if they are not getting the information they need. It is often difficult for small businesses to make this transition from bot to human interaction seamless. A bot can book an appointment with a customer representative, but there is often a few hours delay (or more) and this means that the “lead” might grow cold or even find an alternative product online.

So, is a chatbot the right thing for a social enterprise? In truth, chatbots are becoming the norm on many commercial websites, and in the last few years, online users appear to be embracing them as useful tools to help them access information on a company or its products. However, chatbots are most useful only if your customers embrace them and only if they work well. They can be particularly effective for businesses that have high web traffic, and in cases were simple responses are all that is needed in most circumstances. If your business sells a toy that has specifications that are important to share (are they recyclable, for example) that is an easy question to answer. However, if your business is selling facilitation services, then answering a prospective client in person might be a better way to convey your value.

Social Delta has been surprised at the statistics on the effectiveness of chatbots, and therefore advises that they not be dismissed as a tool in the marketing toolbox; however, as with all marketing tools, chatbots should be evaluated by the social entrepreneur by considering their value to the business. They should strategically employ the technology if there is an expectation of benefit (financial or mission impact) that exceeds the cost (money or time or reputation).

However, social entrepreneurs should not presume the tool to be invasive or annoying; somewhat remarkably, the studies show chatbots to be a strong customer cultivation tool in many cases.

.

Social Delta provides Investment Readiness Program (IRP) consulting

The Government of Canada has launched the Investment Readiness Program, which provides non-repayable financing (also known as grants!) of between $10,000 and $100,000 to help social purpose businesses grow.

This is a landmark commitment to social finance and investing in the social economy of Canada by the federal government. All social enterprises–both new and seasoned–should learn more about this program in order to apply for the grants to build their capacity to be ready to accept social investments (loans, share capital) in order to grow their business, and generate greater positive social impact in our communities.

For more than a decade, Social Delta has been providing the type of consulting that is eligible for funding under this program. Contact us to discuss how we can help you access and effectively use these newly available funds to start or scale your social enterprise.

The IRP is available for social enterprises and social purpose organizations regardless of how they’ve been incorporated. Non-profits, co-operatives, and private sector businesses with a social mission are all eligible. If you are in business (or want to be in business) to create social value, this program can help you kick start your mission based company. There a five organizations administering the grant applications and one of those organizations, the Community Foundations of Canada, offers a very useful FAQ document that can be downloaded here.

This is not a grant to cover your operational expenses. However, it is money that is available to help you create a strategic approach to develop and fulfill the demand for your products and services. Business planning, marketing, organizational readiness, market research, and even purchasing assets necessary to fulfill contracts are all eligible expenses.

Social Delta is experienced, having worked with more than 400 social enterprises and social entrepreneurs across the country. We help with early stage creative thinking, professional market research, finding sources of start up funds, building effective and practical operational business plans, and scale social enterprises by increasing sales and reach.

We offer a complimentary 45 minute confidential consultation to discuss your business, and to listen to how we can help you create or grow a successful social enterprise. With the launch of the IRP, now there are funds available that can help us help you. To chat with us, book a free consultation online, or contact us here.

When is a medical innovation a social enterprise?

  • An effective device to decrease hearing loss in musicians or audiences.
  • A low-cost prosthetic limb to make mobility possible for millions unable to afford traditional technology.
  • A medical equipment business that makes it affordable to get a used wheelchair, bathroom lift or other medical aid.

These are all innovations that have led to improved health, especially for individuals in our community or around the world with a low income. But which among them is a social enterprise?

  • They all generate revenue through the sale of a product or service. As such, they are enterprises.
  • They all seek to improve health of individuals in our community. As such, they have a social mission.
  • They all require investment of time, resources and assets in order to bring their social benefit to market. As such, they have had to get grants, donations, loans or other forms of start-up capital.

If they walk like a duck, and sound like a duck, then surely they are a duck?

The first case is that of Ear Peace, a company that produces various simple earplugs that reduce decibel levels. It is a product that looks like a thousand others in the marketplace, but its salesman tells me that this private company exists to ensure that people’s hearing is protected. Their slogan sounds altruistic: “Hear Today. Hear Tomorrow.” They are available for about $12-20 a set online. Their website features logos of a variety of non-profit hearing loss agencies and associations. (inferring-but not expressly stating-some form of endorsement)

The second case is Legworks, a Toronto based company that calls itself a for-profit social enterprise. They have developed a low cost prosthetic limb to “help people walk again.” Mobility, they highlight, empowers amputees to more fully participate in society, work, and family life. They offer this technology to those in need “regardless of where they live or their ability to pay.” This social mission is to be achieved by creating a margin on sales in more wealthy markets in order to cover losses in other markets. They note that some 85-95% of the 10 million amputees worldwide do not have access to an affordable prosthetic device, and they recently won the Para PanAm accessibility tech pitch award.

The last case is now a historical case.  STRIDE was a medical aid facility operating in Ottawa, but it closed down because the free rent they enjoyed was lost, and in spite of the value they brought to their customers who paid on a “pay what you can” model, they were not able to generate sufficient revenue to pay for the rent increase. The inventory of medical aids were distributed to agencies across the city upon their closure. The business ran on largely volunteer labour, and dozens of agencies would refer clients to STRIDE to access medical aids needed after suffering an injury or contracting an illness.

All of these businesses could be considered a social enterprise based upon their stated mission. But are they social enterprises? One way to determine whether these are businesses with “a primary goal of achieving a social mission”  is to question where the money goes. Ear Peace appears to create profits for its owners.  Legworks might be profitable, it might not—only time will tell—but it has received financial support from publicly funded bodies and it is unclear where any future profits might go. STRIDE was certainly in the business of social benefit, but it was unable to remain in business without jeopardizing its social mission; this tragedy was precipitated because of a lack of a profit motive.

These businesses are but a few in a large array of those marketing medical improvements, breakthroughs and innovations.  As consumers and social enterprise supporters, we are challenged to determine which of those businesses are motivated by social mission and which simply create better health outcomes for a profit. This is the challenge of trying to define social enterprise. 

What we do know is that if each of these companies were to flourish and grow, then we would have a healthier society, and that is a good outcome regardless of the labels we might apply.

Social Enterprise Advertising

I welcome any attempt by a social enterprise to advertise their products or services. When I was reading a recent copy of my community newspaper, I was delighted to see an article on Cigbins, a social enterprise started by three creative University of Ottawa students with whom I’ve worked. Their company collects used cigarette butts and recycles them into one of a number of useful products, such as insulation, thereby helping to clean up the scourge of litter while making something of value in the marketplace. The sale of the final product pays for the initial service. Moreover, the company has partnered with a local charity, Causeway Work Centre, to provide employment and training opportunities for individuals with mental health concerns.  This article, written by Michelle Nash at Metroland media, is a wonderful form of free advertising, although of course, getting articles written about your business is not always easy, or replicable.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Carleton Association for People With Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD) took a more direct approach. In the very same newspaper edition, they placed a 6.5″ X 5″ advertisement to sell the garlic that they grow on their farm near Bells Corners. I’ve attached a scan of their advertisement to endorse not only what they are doing, but how they are doing it.

silversprings0001

© 2021 social delta

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑