Bots for Social Business: Best Practices for Approachable Automation

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

By Andrew Caravella, VP of Strategy & Brand Engagement, Sprout Social

The moment someone brings up the word ‘bot,’ people think of one of two things: either an apocalyptic terminator seeking to destroy humanity or an annoying autoresponder that is the source of constant frustration. Neither are good. In fact, a recent survey found that 34 percent of people were afraid of the concept of artificial intelligence. Whether that fear stems from the threat of a hostile takeover or just the unknown is unclear, it’s a fear that’s largely unfounded. When used for reasons other than trolling, bots aren’t just innocuous, they can also be quite helpful—for both businesses and their customers.

Yet to realize that potential, we must first admonish our fears and realistically level-set around the difference between AI (artificial intelligence) and bots. It bears distinction that not all chatbots feature artificial intelligence and machine learning; therefore, they aren’t attempting to act like humans, they’re simply making humans’ lives a bit easier. These rule-based chatbots use intuitive, conversational workflows that give humans complete control over the bot’s responses. Therein lies the opportunity: a mixture of control and efficiency that is particularly useful for brands and their social strategies, especially as message volume and customer expectations are on the rise.

Simplified Bot Builders make setting up rule-based chatbots fairly easy. And while these tools are meant to make bot development a streamlined process, first and foremost brands have to bring a thoughtful, strategic approach to ensure they’re creating an effective, compelling customer experience–and dispelling any preconceived negativity around bots.

To Bot or Not: Will Your Brand Benefit from One?

A healthy 80 percent of brands are investing in bot development, and chatbots are quickly becoming a must-have accessory for any social profile. But before you dive in, take the necessary step back and determine if it’s truly the right decision for your brand. Start by asking yourself and your team a few simple questions:

  • Does our brand receive a high volume of inquiries on social?
  • Are many of those messages repetitive and received at scale?
  • Can reducing our response time or thread size improve the customer service experience?
  • Do we have a marketing campaign or event that could benefit from an interactive, automated customer or community experience?

If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” then you should seriously consider how bots may boost your brand’s performance. The truth is chatbots have the potential to automate 30 percent more of the typical tasks done by today’s customer service agents—a benefit that far outweighs the initial setup time. While a human customer service agent can get tired or overwhelmed, chatbots never slow down. As social is increasingly integrated into the way people and brands interact, the demand for better, faster customer care and efficient resolutions is huge.

Building the Nuts and Bolts of Your Bot

The key to building an effective chatbot is a solid foundation. A messaging strategy will inform the basic setup and functionality of the chatbot, as well as its execution. Most chatbots serve one of two purposes: marketing or customer service. Whether your brand is creating a chatbot to automate outbound marketing tasks or to help manage a high volume of customer service inquiries, effectiveness is everything. Henceforth, a few critical components and bot best practices:

Give Your Bot a Personality

Your brand has already worked hard to develop a unique brand voice that is consistent throughout your ad campaigns, marketing materials, social profiles and in-person interactions. Any bot you create should simply be an extension of that voice—an opportunity to showcase your brand’s personality to an engaged community.

When Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas partnered with digital marketing agency R/GA to create Rose, their playful virtual concierge, personality was everything. “We wanted to create a spirited personality that reflected the mystique of The Cosmopolitan,” says Mamie Peers, Senior Director of Digital, Social, and eCommerce at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Guests at the hotel can text Rose about anything they might need during their stay, including dining recommendations, fresh towels, you name it. But what makes Rose so impressive isn’t just the service she provides—it’s the side of sass she delivers alongside it. “Making Rose playful, fun and witty was a key component,” Peers notes. “We’re trying to get personal with the guests.”

Chatbots can be intimidating, so the more helpful and human you can make the experience, the more comfortable and apt customers will be to engage. However, the most powerful and effective chatbots don’t replace the human experience entirely. They simply augment it by automating simple, repetitive tasks to allow human agents more time to engage with more complex issues. Brands should always make sure their customers know they are communicating with a bot versus a human, and should be prepared to quickly transfer the customer to a real service agent should they need further assistance that the bot just can’t provide.

Keep the Conversation Moving Forward

Because these bots are not powered by AI, the set of rules and features must be built to keep the conversation focused and moving forward. Offering suggested quick replies is one way to help guide customers in a chatbot conversation.

Popular productivity and collaboration platform Evernote utilizes quick replies in their customer service chatbot experience to minimize message thread size. When a person visits @EvernoteHelps and clicks on the DM button, a chatbot greets him or her and triggers four quick reply options. With a single tap, the customer selects the reply option that best matches the subject matter of inquiry. “Before quick replies, we were going back and forth trying to get information to solve a customer’s problem,” said Dorothy Spira, Social Media Specialist at Evernote. “Now I can solve the problem with one message.”

Offering fewer response options lowers the chance of the conversation hitting a dead end. So keep both prompts and responses simple and intuitive. Also, because chatbots are often used to automate repetitive customer service tasks, be sure to plan for the collection of pertinent information to ensure a more informed exchange. And no matter how thought-out and thorough your chatbot rules are, always be sure to give customers a way to exit the experience and speak to a human agent.

Use Customer Feedback to Improve Bot Performance

Your bot must adequately meet the needs of your customers, so it’s important to gauge their experience by offering automated feedback during or at the close of the experience. This can be done by building a feedback loop into your bot so customers don’t have to seek out a separate interaction to provide their thoughts. Popular gaming bot, GameMonk, employed a feedback loop to improve its user experience. When users complained of feeling rushed, developers increased the allotted time for each question. And when the team discovered that the English-centric bot was alienating their large international following, necessary adjustments were made.

Identifying and addressing these issues resulted in both a 24 percent increase in session length and a positive 23 percent boost to sentiment for GameMonk - proving that it pays to listen to your users.

Keep in mind that because rule-based bots do not learn through AI, improvements must be made on the backend. The “rules” can be changed and edited at any time, and should change as you begin to identify common hiccups or pain points in the conversation.

Each brand must evaluate how chatbots fit their marketing needs and take a unique approach. Start with a carefully considered strategy and set-up, think through the ideal customer experience, and always fine tune for operational excellence. If you follow these and other and bot best practices, you’ll ensure your chatbot is simple, straightforward and meets the unique needs of your customers.

About the Author

Andrew Caravella is Vice President of Strategy & Brand Engagement at Sprout Social, a leading provider of social media engagement, advocacy and analytics solutions for business. Find him on Twitter @andrewcaravella.

Before You Go

Popular in the Community