We’ve all experienced it: the dreaded customer service phone call. You stay on the line, listening to elevator music and playing the waiting game until a person finally serves you. Fortunately, social media has revolutionized the customer service game, making it more immediate, simple and accessible.

Customer service is also a differentiator for brands, and 44% of consumers say that strong customer service is what makes a brand’s social best in class.

As social media becomes the primary destination for customer service, social and customer support teams need to be equipped to handle high volumes of messages with efficiency. But humans can only do so much at once.

Enter chatbots.

Juniper Research estimated that bots saved consumers and businesses 2.2 billion customer service hours in 2020, and will save 27 billion hours by 2023. But this doesn’t mean leaving customers on their own or replacing diligent customer service professionals by an army of impersonal robots.

Creating more seamless customer service and a better customer experience is possible when chatbots and people work together.

In this article, we’ll examine the types of bots available for businesses, when and where chatbots can fit into your customer service strategy and how to create chatbots that sound anything but artificial.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots are programs built to automatically respond to inbound messages and assist customers through text chats, voice commands or both. On social media, chatbots can be set up on platforms like Facebook and Twitter so even when social teams are offline, customer service bots are still on.

There are two main types of chatbots:

  • Machine-learning AI chatbots
  • Rules-based chatbots

AI chatbots

Machine-learning AI chatbots are programmed to self-learn as they’re introduced to new words, questions, sources of information and dialogue. These bots, like humans, learn over time and as they do, the accuracy of their service improves and the volume of messages they engage with increases.

Amazon Alexa is one of the most famous examples of this kind of bot. If you have one in your home and think that it’s becoming more attuned to your habits and preferences, it’s because she is.

These kinds of bots drive the dialogue and use context clues, embedded skills and conversation history to continually improve a person’s experience with them.

Rules-based chatbots

Then, there are rule-based chatbots, which follow a series of rules like a flowchart to drive the conversation.

If you’re intimidated by machine learning or want more control over how your chatbots operate, rule-based bots are the ones for you. These bots are simple to set up, intuitive for customers to use and can solve repetitive tasks like answering FAQs. Using a tool like Sprout Social’s Bot Builder, you can streamline conversations, map out experiences based on straightforward, rules-based logic and create an easy-to-follow path to solutions.

Sprout Social Bots Dashboard
Sprout Social Bots Dashboard

At Sprout Social, we don’t just offer rule-based bots in our product, we also use them in our customer care strategies on Facebook and Twitter. When a customer opens a direct message in those platforms, our customer care bot welcomes them and offers up a few options for how they can assist. If a bot is unable to get the customer to their goal, we have a rule set up so customers always have the option to request human assistance. Feel free to try it out for yourself and get hands-on experience with the bot by shooting us a DM on Twitter or Facebook.

The pros and cons of using chatbots

No matter which kind of chatbot you want to implement in your social customer service strategy, there are tons of benefits for your customer service teams, social media managers and brand reputation. But there are also a few limitations, and it’s important to acknowledge them.

Bots can only deal with limited scenarios

Rule-based chatbots can’t address questions or concerns outside of their defined rules. If customers need help outside of the chatbot’s scope, how your team responds and picks up where the bot left off becomes critical. 

Bots can make the customer service experience repetitive and circular

If your customers keep coming back to social for service and are met by the same script each time, they might feel fatigued by a repetitive experience. Be sure to continue auditing your scripts and rules so the experience is refreshed every so often.

Bots can only make you look so good

If a customer prompts your chatbot to pass them off to a customer service representative and the line goes silent, it’s not a good look for your human team. Even if you need time to get answers for your customer, let them know you’ve seen their message and will get back to them soon. Consistent communication is key.

Now let’s get to the good stuff.

Pro: Bots deliver instant responses

Speed and efficiency are arguably the biggest pros to bringing chatbots into the fold.

According to the Sprout Social Index, 40% of consumers expect a response within the first hour of reaching out to a brand on social. Chatbots can cut that wait time down to nearly zero seconds and continue a live-chat.

Chatbots, when implemented carefully, are effective because they are really fast and never get tired. Human agents can get fatigued or overwhelmed, which leads to slow responses, impatient users and drawn-out support conversations.
Aaron Rankin
Chief Technology Officer, Sprout Social

From a metrics perspective, customer service chatbots are instrumental in decreasing response and reply wait times and increasing the speed to solutions.

Pro: Bots provide service outside business hours

Unlike chatbots, people have lives that need to be lived! If you’re one of the many social media managers or customer service reps who loses sleep over missed messages, chatbots can help you rest easy.

“Our team isn’t necessarily monitoring social media 24/7. If people need to reach out to us overnight, chatbots allow us to provide customers an immediate response,” said Carollyn Montales, the Online Community Management Senior Specialist at Southern California Edison.

If your business prefers to have mostly human-to-human interactions with your customers, that’s great, but in those off-hours, bots can fill in the gaps. So, even if it’s four in the morning on Labor Day, bots have your back.

Pro: Bots give customer support and social teams a break from repetitive questions and high message volumes 

Social media managers and customer service reps are often juggling multiple support conversations and dealing with high volumes of inquiries across channels, which can lead to burnout.

When you need to address more pressing, complex challenges, chatbots eagerly assist with answering FAQs and other repetitive messages. The result of that teamwork is quicker issue resolution and happier humans on both sides of the conversation.

How to set up a Twitter or Facebook chatbot with Sprout’s Bot Builder

Sprout Social users can use our Bot Builder to create, preview and deploy chatbots on Twitter and Facebook in a matter of minutes.

In the Bot Builder, you can create a chatbot from scratch or use a template to help you get started.

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Whether you’re starting with a blank canvas or using a template, the first steps are the same. Select which profile you want your chatbot to monitor, give your bot a name, an avatar and a description.

Once you click save, you’ll be brought to the screen where you’ll configure your chatbot. If you selected a template, a decision tree with predetermined rules and script options will automatically populate in the configuration stage. You can run with it as is or add additional rules and completely customize the copy so the bot sounds and feels more on-brand. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to build out your own script and decision tree based on “Bot Says” this and “User Clicks” that logic.

Bot Builder Configuration

Each chatbot interaction starts with a welcome message that greets users when they send a direct message to your brand. In addition to text, you can add photos, GIFs and up to three call-to-action buttons in your welcome message.From there, you can edit or add quick replies and menu options that users click to prompt an auto-response and reach the next step in the bot-driven conversation.Once you’ve added all the necessary layers and considerations, click the eye icon along the right rail to preview and interact with your chatbot before activating it.

Chatbot Preview

Want more guidance on how to set up chatbots and streamline customer care in Sprout? Check out this learning portal lesson, available to all Sprout customers and users in trial.

3 chatbot copywriting tips to connect better with customers

To get the most out of chatbots and provide better CX, you want people to love talking to them. It’s not about pretending bots are human, but writing their scripts so customers have a positive experience interacting with them.

1. Provide an introduction to your chatbot

There are still some stigmas around chatbots so not everyone will want to interact with one. It’s best to be transparent and set expectations about a chatbot right from the get-go. That way customers can opt-out of the chatbot experience and wait for a human source if they want to.

Plus, not every person will automatically understand how your chatbot works. Explain it to them in a straightforward way so that when they’re prompted to take the next step, want to return to the beginning or reach a human, they know how to.

Sprout Twitter Bot Welcome - Hi, there! Your friendly Sprout neighborhood chatbot here to provide any help while you’re in town. Please choose one of the topics below so I can point you in the right direction. If you want to chat with humans, they're also around – just send a DM! Electric light bulbTo resurface the menu, type the word ‘refresh’.

2. Give your bot a personality

 A lot of brands worry that chatbots sound, well, too robotic. But with tools like Sprout’s Bot Builder, you dictate what your bot sounds like, so why not give it a personality?

Remember SmarterChild, the snarky yet informative AOL instant messenger chatbot? By today’s standards, it’s a rudimentary chatbot, but it had a sarcastic personality that at its peak entertained 250,000 people per day.

Image result for smarterchild

Personality is more than just how your chatbot ‘speaks.’ Sometimes brands will humanize their chatbot by giving it a name so the conversation feels more personable.

3. Keep it simple

 Remember chatbots aren’t meant to replace humans, but to complement them. Even if you inject personality into your chatbot, keep your copy simple. The ultimate goal is for chatbots to be helpful and provide solutions. Overly flowery language, metaphors and $10 words will just complicate things for your customers. As you’re writing chatbot copy, lean into instinct and just talk like a human would.

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 Buddy up with chatbots

For a long time, the idea of talking to a customer support chatbot seemed bizarre, impersonal and even scary to some people. But with Sprout’s Bot Builder, you make the rules, so you can ensure that your customers have a delightful and seamless experience.

When used carefully and intentionally, chatbots can make life easier for customers, social media managers and customer support teams. Don’t be afraid to lean into automation and reap the benefits of a partnership with social media chatbots.

With a concrete customer care plan and chatbots as your allies, you can stay ahead of the curve. Try our chatbot builder by starting a free, 30-day trial.