More on Bots and Customer Service

As you may have heard, the White House recently launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger. Critical response ranged from tepid to it being an epic fail. The main problem was that it is harder to use than the older contact method of just using email.

This is a really important point and one that is being overlooked by many people as they rush to add bots to their websites or Facebook pages. The bot experience should be better for the customer if it is to add anything. And not just better, but fundamentally different from email or other contact methods. Let’s look at how the customer experience differs between the two currently dominant support systems, phone and email, and an ideal chatbot system.


Find the support email address on the company website.
Send an email with your question.
Wait for a response. 24 hours is generally considered an acceptable response time by a mid-size company.
Hopefully get an answer to your question. If not, repeat the process or call the helpline.


Find the phone number on the company website.
Call the number.
Go through a frustrating automated menu using either touch tones or speech recognition (good luck if you have an accent).
Wait until a service agent is available.
Possibly go through some verification questions to make sure you are actually you.
Be told you need to speak with someone else and get put on hold until you are redirected. This may lead to you being disconnected.
Connect with the correct agent, who may be able to answer your question. They may also direct you to the website FAQ at this point.


Go to the chatbot which will ideally be prominent on the company website.
Either select from a list of common questions, or type in your question.
Get an answer.

Clearly the bot experience is the least frustrating. First, you don’t need to find an email or a phone number. The bot should be right in front of you. From there the experience should continue to be fairly standardized, with no need to concentrate on a menu of options that is different for every company (or more likely different every time you call the same company. “Listen carefully as our menu has changed”). Next, there is no lag when being transferred to a different operator. If the chatbot has to get help from a human this can happen seamlessly. And finally, the answer can be supplied in the form of a number of media: links, pictures, videos or words.

Chatbots are going to completely change the interaction between businesses and customers, but the businesses that will really benefit will be those who see bots for what they are: a new form of help, not just online 1–800 numbers.

Originally published at on August 16, 2016.