The How-To: Using Chatbots As A Tool For Customer Service

Are chatbots the future of customer service, or are they a bad idea?

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By Jimmy Rohampton

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Many brands have already been using Twitter and other social media sites as vehicles for dealing with customer service issues. It's only natural- when customers have questions or are dissatisfied, it isn't unusual for them to bring up their issues on social media. As a result, it becomes necessary for brands to respond to customer service issues on social media as well. Twitter has become the go-to platform for dealing with customer service issues.

Recognizing this trend, Twitter is now offering customer service chatbots that companies can use when sending direct messages to customers. These chatbots allow brands to send out auto replies to customer service related DMs, to help customers get help without human intervention, or to assist customers who want to contact a real, live person. Tesco, Airbnb, Spotify, and other brands have eagerly taken advantage of this new opportunity to automate engaging with their customers. Chatbots are now also a major part of the Facebook Messenger experience.

In a way, this is a bit like automated telephone systems for the Internet. The only difference is that consumers are more educated and more empowered than ever. The salient question is, are chatbots the future of customer service, or are they a bad idea?

The ability to respond immediately could be a benefit

Everybody understands the frustration of asking a question, lodging a complaint, or even making a suggestion, and then receiving no response for days. As a business owner or marketing professional, you likely also understand the frustration of trying to be both responsive and thorough, and being criticized regardless.

The simple act of giving people an automated acknowledgement to let them know that their complaint or inquiry has been received can go a long way towards customer goodwill. Even if it's just a chatbot greeting a customer, clarifying the customer's issue, and then giving an approximate timeline of when they should expect a response.

Chatbots might not be appropriate for every industry or issue

One issue with chatbots is that they aren't 100% accurate when it comes to the responses that they give. In fact, they tend to max out at around an 85% accuracy rate. It is important to understand that even this number is under ideal conditions.

The average customer service situation isn't going to represent those conditions. Because of this, real world accuracy is going to be much lower. In some industries, this can be a real problem. For example, is it a wise idea for an engineering firm to use a chatbot and risk an unacceptable rate of error?

Then, there is the B2B industry to consider. As a general rule, B2B is slower to adopt newer technologies and solutions than B2C. This is due in part to the issue of accuracy mentioned above. Then there is also the cost and complexity of implementing new solutions in general.

For B2B, using chatbots could mean dealing with integration issues, training staff, and ensuring regulatory compliance. Until the effectiveness of chatbots is proven, many B2B companies will probably balk at the thought of using chatbots in most instances.

Finally, sensitivity is an important issue. There are some issues and even entire niches in which a human touch is necessary throughout the entire customer experience. For example, a funeral home using a chatbot could be seen as being quite insensitive and lacking the needed human element that people doing business with a funeral home would expect.

Related: How Millennials Are Redefining Customer Service

Brands must properly gauge customer reaction to chatbots

Today, the more automated phone systems have technology in place that allows these systems to detect when customers are becoming agitated and frustrated. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy to detect emotion from someone using social media or chat software. Unlike with voice systems, there is no way to detect uneven voice patterns, volume, or interruptions.

Because of this, brands who are considering chatbot solutions need to think carefully. How will their customers react? Do they need to limit the use of chatbots to certain problems or to certain areas of their website? These are all things that should be taken into consideration.

Non complicated tasks could be an ideal opportunity to use bots

One undeniable positive regarding the use of chatbots is the ability to make life easier by helping them to navigate simple, automated tasks.

For example, a customer enters an e-commerce website and signs into their account. A chatbot appears and asks them what they want to do. In this case, let's assume that the customer needs to modify their shipping address. The chatbot simply takes that information and provides them with the steps they need to take based upon instruction sets that are embedded in the AI software driving the bot.

Businesses can use chatbots for proactive customer service and education

Many companies offer tutorials or have other ways of providing product education to their consumers. Others use tutorials to help customers navigate their website or otherwise enhance their user experience. This is great, but currently limiting. There is often no interaction, or when there is interaction it is canned. The software simply reacts according to binary responses.

By using chatbot technology, there is great potential for improving upon this. Chatbots using artificial intelligence can automatically react to customer responses and actions to provide real time customization to these educational experiences. In addition to this, it may be possible in the future for chatbots to proactively determine when a customer needs assistance and when to escalate things to a human, even before the customer requests help.

There is no denying chatbots are here to stay, and that they can certainly add value. Brands such as Facebook wouldn't be so heavily invested in this technology if that were not the case. On the other hand, businesses who are considering using this technology should weigh their options carefully. Cost, business model, and accuracy are all important things to consider before buying into the use of chatbots as a customer service tool.

Related: How To Offer Kickass Customer Support On Snapchat

Jimmy Rohampton

Freelance writer & Business consultant

Jimmy is a freelance writer, blogger, and business consultant. He helps people master blogging and online marketing at Jimmy has written for The Huffington Post, Engadget and Tech Cocktail to name a few.

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