IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

If Your Chat Bot Sucks, You Suck

Like it or not, "chat bots" are the future. But you need to manage them just like employees!

There are several kinds of chat bots. The most basic are just pop-ups on the web site that allow someone to start a conversation that is handed off to a real human. You've probably experienced a version of this at the drive-through window. "Welcome to Cousin Larry's Pretty Good Chicken Place. I'll take your order when you're ready." Then, when you start talking, you realized it's a different voice. The first was automated; the second is live.

In that situation, I doubt that many people are irritated or feel put out. The key to success with that kind of system is: There has to be a smooth transition from bot to human.

As we get ready for 2022, most people are not automatically irritated by chat bots. We start with the bot. Then we get handed to a real human. Sometimes, our problem is handled along the way. 

You might also have a chat bot on the phone. These are more expensive and require a more sophisticated AI (artificial intelligence). Here, you might add some personality and even a bit of quirkiness to fit your brand. Again, more money.

The most important thing to remember is pretty simple: A chat bot should enhance the customer experience, not detract from it

Consider your own experiences. I'm sure you've had experiences where the bot got you exactly what you need. But we're early in the bot era, so there's usually a handoff to a human at some point. The bot needs to do its job and then get out of the way. Again, the hand-off needs to be smooth.

I recently had a very frustrating exchange with a customer service email chain at my medical provider. The responses might have been humans with horrible customer service training, or they might have been chat bots pretending to be human. Either way, my experience was not good. 

When a bot goes bad, it gives absurd and inappropriate information or advice. It is out of synch with the client's needs and mood.

Remember this critical rule about customer service: When a client initiates contact, they are probably already frustrated, at least a little. They need something. You can (or might) provide whatever they need. So if your chat bot takes them down the path to inappropriate questions or recommendations, there has to be a way for the client to quickly make a smooth transition to a human.

If a client feels increased frustration while dealing with your automated service, that reflects very poorly on your company! And you get ZERO points for blaming your bad customer service on the bot you created/bought/programmed to provide that service. 

The most important thing clients need to feel at this moment is being heard. Did the IT consultant hear my complaint? Do they know what I need? Am I going to be taken care of? If your chat bot can accomplish all that, you're in great shape. But right now, chances are good that you bot needs to focus on that smooth transition to a human.

Do not assume your expensive chat bot is working effectively! In fact, assume it is not. Your clients will automatically be more frustrated with your bot than with you, especially in times of stress. So, implement slowly, and get lots of feedback. Take that feedback seriously. 

You've also had this experience somewhere along the line: The chat bot made you feed un-welcome and un-important. You felt that someone did not value your business. So you dropped the communication and went somewhere else.

A "bad" chat bot will cost your clients. A good one might automate your systems and help you solve a few problems before engaging people. But, ultimately, you are still in a people business. So figure out how to use chat bots to increase the human connection.

If your chat bot sucks, and that's your primary interface to a client, you will lose clients and prospects pretty quickly. If a chat bot works well, it will make people feel valuable and welcome. Then, your human team can help clients with a solid, positive connection.

Feedback welcome, of course.

:-)

About the Author

Karl W. Palachuk, is a technology consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and coach. He is the author of fifteen books. He has built several successful businesses, including two managed services companies. His books include Managed Services in a Month and The Network Documentation Workbook. Karl is a frequent trainer and speaker in the SMB Community. His popular blog can be found at SmallBizThoughts.com. He has more than twenty years experience as an I.T. professional and serves on advisory panels for several hardware and software companies.

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