How to Use Chatbots in Support – Best Practices & Examples

Customer experience experts have been building up sky-high expectations on the ‘Age of Artificial Intelligence’ for years now, but not much has happened yet. Did we fall victim to a hype? Are support chatbots nothing but hot air?

At Userlike, we’re convinced that no AI will match the power of a personal interaction any time soon. People are just better than bots at most of the customer service essentials, like detecting emotions, understanding context, or knowing when to tweak a given protocol.

Well, in theory.

The reality is often far from that. A lot of human support is given in an inhuman way, with customers having to deal with agents that aren’t empowered to give them helpful answers or are simply lacking the necessary skills for a fruitful customer communication.

"Some human agents act like bots when they're on the phone, reading from a script and refusing to deviate in any way. That can be even more irritating.

Christopher Elliot – Forbes

That’s where we think bots could become game changers for the customer service industry. Instead of worrying about whether chatbots will replace people working in customer service altogether, we see it as a division of labor opportunity that allows humans to focus on the interesting work only.

Before discussing how such a setup could look like, let’s first quickly see what bots can and cannot do in customer service.

What chatbots do best

  1. Reply instantly. Speed strongly affects customer satisfaction. That’s why the first response time is considered one of the most crucial metrics in support. With bots, there are no waiting lines, so your visitor receives an immediate response that someone’s on the issue.
  2. Offer 24/7 support. Bots don’t mind working night shifts. This is interesting if you’re looking to increase your service hours, for example, when you have a small team but want to offer support in markets operating in different time zones.
  3. Automate frequently asked questions. Most requests people in support get are routine tier-1 tasks. Outsource these kinds of requests to a bot, so your human agents can focus on the more challenging ones. This doesn’t only reduce your costs but also keeps your agents’ motivation up as having to deal with repetitive questions is one of the biggest challenges in support.
  4. Increase customer engagement. Building an advanced conversational bot can be quite difficult. But even the most basic bots can be an asset. Take the contact form that shows up on your website outside of your service hours. Bots can make it more engaging by proactively encouraging your visitors to leave their question.
  5. Handle large chat amounts. Us humans can only do so many things at one time (yup, multitasking is a myth). In live chat, that means limiting your amount of parallel chats to a maximum of three to four so they’re able to answer everyone’s chat in a timely manner. A bot, on the other hand, can deal with unlimited customers at the same time without negatively affecting its service quality.

What chatbots can’t do (yet)

  1. Get to the point quickly. It’s a common misconception that bots are faster than humans. While it’s true in some cases, such as the first response time or answering frequently asked questions, bots can talk your ear off to get you to the point that actually interests you.
  2. Bend the rules. Bots are loyal servants that only follow what you programmed them to do. Which is fine most of the time. The reason that businesses have clear policies is so they don't need to reinvent the wheel for each individual case. But sometimes, you might have to stray from the given path a bit to make your customer happy. If necessary, a human support agent should be able to deviate from your no-refunds policy, for example, while this would be non-negotiable for the bot.
  3. Have all the answers. A good support agent knows how to handle even the trickiest situations in support and has the answer to exceptional circumstances. This is hard for chatbots to replicate which is why they are only good at covering common questions and situations.
  4. Understand your questions. When dealing with chatbots, you need to know exactly what you want to ask and phrase it in the correct way. If you don’t know the right term, chances are the bot won’t get it. At Userlike, for example, we have a “Widget Secret” and a “Widget Code” – two different things which look almost identical and are thus often mixed up. A chatbot wouldn’t notice when a customer is confusing these terms, giving her the wrong information.
  5. Create an interaction that feels natural. Like all machines, bots force you to interact with them in a way they understand. Mostly, that means having to click through a bunch of path dependencies to express your interests. Instead of a natural dialogue, it feels more more like an interrogative question-answer situation. While it’s nice that a bot replies instantly, it can feel uncanny when it reacts inhumanly fast with large chunks of texts.

Chatbots and humans – a perfect match

If chatbots and human support agents both have their unique capabilities and limits, why not get the best out of both worlds? Here are our tips for successfully using chatbots in support.

1
Only use a chatbot if it makes sense

cartoon of a chatbot

The golden rule for chatbot service. Sounds like a no-brainer at first but with all the buzz around chatbots, many businesses don’t question their necessity.

You get a lot of repetitive questions? Then a chatbot could be beneficial to your business. You have a complex product that requires personal support? A chatbot probably isn’t the right fit.

A research project done by Drift, SurveyMonkey Audience, Salesforce, and myclever in 2018 yielded the surprising results that when it comes to chatbot acceptance, age doesn't matter. According to the study, Baby Boomers are just as open to chatbots as Millennials. Note, however, that openness doesn’t equal actual use. If you’re catering to an older audience, they might appreciate talking to “a machine” less than younger people who might have more realistic expectations of chatbots’ capabilities.

Analyze your business and ask yourself crucial questions like these: What’s my goal for implementing the chatbot? Which operational processes would a chatbot optimize? How would my users react to a chatbot? Getting started with chatbot service just because everyone’s talking about chatbots doesn’t suffice as an answer.

2
Make your humans stand out

We know bot development is still in its early stages, so we’ve lowered our expectations when dealing with them. But when it comes to human agents, there’s really no excuse for bad customer service. With everyone talking about chatbots, however, businesses might easily forget to keep a close eye on the quality of their human support.

While your customers appreciate getting a fast answer, bad service experiences can prevent them from ever buying from you again. That’s why it’s important to have a support team that stands out from chatbot support. Getting to an all-star support team requires constant training as well as granting customer support a seat at the adult table in your business.

A picture of Userlike’s Customer Success team.
Investing in a great Customer Success crew pays off.

Another important point here is that your customers should never be left wondering whether they’re talking to a bot or a human. To avoid confusion, we recommend using real photos instead of avatars for your humans while giving your bot a name and image that clearly reveals its robotic identity.

3
Divide the workload efficiently

With Userlike, you can choose between 4 different types of setups for your chatbot. If you set your bot to be active outside of your service hours, for example during the weekend or at night, you can easily and cost-efficiently offer a basic support in markets you would otherwise not be able to reach.

Or you can use your bot to qualify your incoming chats before a human Operator receives them. That way, your bot functions as a filter, dealing with simple, redundant inquiries, and only forwarding chats it cannot answer to its human colleagues. This saves them time that they can invest in their other responsibilities. It also keeps them more motivated as having to deal with the same questions over and over again every day can be challenging.

Creating a chatbot setup that fits your business’ objectives can also save you costs. That’s money you can invest in building a great customer service team that stands out.

4
Connect your chatbot with your live chat software

Customers have come to expect options for instant support via live chat. At Userlike, we've made it easy to integrate a chatbot into your existing support system. By using our chatbot infrastructure, you’re creating a bridge between the bot and your human agents for working in harmony with each other. If the bot doesn’t have an answer to the customer’s request, it can simply hand things over to its human colleagues.

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Once you’ve integrated your bot with Userlike, it has access to your chat commands like a normal Operator. That way, it can collect and store data from your Webvisitors, send them to dedicated parts of your website, forward the current chat session to a human colleague, and more.

While we welcome automation for many tasks, we still want to monitor our robo-buddy. You can look at your chatbot's activity in the transcripts, just like with any human Operator.

5
Follow the chat etiquette

So you have a killer support crew that knows how to deal with customers inside and out. While a bot won’t be able to reach their level, you should still aim to get as close as possible with the service it delivers. Bad customer service can hurt your business’ reputation – and a clumsy chatbot can put it at risk.

That’s why the chat manifesto you’ve set for your human service reps needs to be followed by your bots as well. One obvious step involves training your bot to know the right answers. Another one that’s often overlooked is writing.

A lot of bots aren’t abiding the principles for good customer service though. They’re speaking in complex language, sending overly long messages, or texts full of typos.

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What’s more, users have clear expectations of how they want their chatbot to be. According to a Forrester survey, people want bots’ personalities to be “polite, caring, intelligent and funny”. Besides following the support principles, adding a bit of humor can be the pinch of salt to make your bot likable. In his post on InVision, Patrick Stafford gives some powerful tips for conversational chatbot writing.

Example #1: Offline bot – Chat Butler

Chat Butler is our own chatbot that’s included in all premium plans. It’s the easiest option for you to get a foot into the door with service bots. Here’s how he helps you:

  1. Greets your Webvisitor
  2. Asks for her request
  3. Forwards her to an available Operator or
  4. Creates a ticket in case no Operator is available
GIF of a Chat Butler conversation

The great thing about Chat Butler is that you don’t need to worry about building a bot yourself. Of course, compared to some smart and witty chabots out there, Chat Butler looks more like their... simple cousin. But think of him more as a conversational, fun, and engaging alternative to the traditional contact form.

Example #2: Firewall bot – LogoEnergie

As described above, we believe that human agents and bots should be working together in support. Chatbots are great for answering frequently asked questions – which make for the majority of questions in live chat – while human agents can focus on the more complex, individual cases.

LogoEnergie, a German utilities company, makes use of this setup to support its customers. If you enter the chat on their website, you’ll be directed to chatbot “Henry”. He’s online 24/7 and answers simple, recurring questions.

Inside LogoEnergie’s service times, there are also human service agents available, so Henry can hand the chat over to them easily when he can’t answer the customer’s request. Outside LogoEnergie’s service times, at night or during the weekend, customers can request a callback or email from a human agent in these cases.

A screenshot of the Chat Widget on LogoEnergie's website
LogoEnerige leaves the choice for the preferred contact channel to its customers.

That way, LogoEnergie empowers its visitors to make the decision themselves whether they’re fine with speaking to the bot or would prefer a human agent. This decreases the risks of customer frustration.

How to connect a chatbot with your Userlike live chat

With Userlike, we offer an infrastructure that allows you to easily integrate your bot framework into your live chat. That way, the bot is working right in the chat on your website that your customers are already using.

Once you’ve connected your bot to Userlike, it can interact with your visitors. It works like a normal Operator, so it also has access to all of your chat commands to collect and store data from your visitors, it can send them to special parts of your website like your pricing page, or forward the current chat session to a human colleague.

Take a look at our tutorial for more information on how to integrate a chatbot with Userlike.

Please note that we’re not a bot building platform, so we don’t offer any advanced chatbots ourselves. If you haven’t got a chatbot yet, take a look at this post to find the right platform for you.


What’s your opinion on bots in customer service? We’re curious to learn what kind of chatbot service you (plan to) build and integrate with Userlike! Hit us up in the chat, shoot me a message on Twitter, or drop us a line via email.