Bot Etiquette — 10 Best Practices for Having Bots in Your Messaging Platform

Are bots the customer service representatives of the future? It certainly seems as though we’re heading in that direction! Bots can be a great way to handle basic customer service issues, gather information, and perform simple tasks.

However, giving bots access to customer conversation channels is an opportunity that can be easily ruined by poor social skills. It’s a tough time to be a bot without emotions; users are still looking for that human element in their customer service experiences. The best bots sound less like a computer program and more like a helpful friend.

Keeping communication natural is the key to success between human and bot interactions. Here are the ten Do’s and Don’t’s of coding a bot with superior social graces.

1. Don’t be intrusive

Don’t jump into the conversation unless invited. Socially-aware bots should interact with the user when the user wants to engage. Users want to have strong sense of control over their communication channels. If a bot joins in without being invited, this can feel a bit like eavesdropping.

2. Do use familiar language

No one likes being part of a conversation that they don’t understand. Speak in a friendly and familiar manner when engaging with users. Feel free to add personality when appropriate and allow for an authentic voice that aligns with your brand.

3. Don’t interrupt

Allow the person to finish their thoughts before having the bot jump in with suggestions or action. Bots should be great listeners, clued into keywords and hashtags but knowing when to engage and speak up. No one likes being talked over or cut off. Pro tip: When a person is still engaging with the keyboard, they’re working on finishing their thoughts. Your bot should understand this and exercise patience.

4. Do stay on topic

Don’t allow your bot to make suggestions that come out of left field: it discredits the bot and detracts from the bot’s value as a helpful tool. Going off topic is a distraction that can derail a person from completing the task they are trying to accomplish.

5. Don’t be spammy

Your bot may have access to a world of information, but you don’t want to to flood your users with suggestions. Set parameters for how many suggestions should be made based on user interaction. For example, if a user is looking for a dinner recommendation, program your bot to give one suggestion, then wait for a reaction from the user. The bot can then log the reaction, and be mindful of the user’s preferences when asked in the future. Like a good concierge, your bot can delight users when it takes the time to get to know them.

6. Do be credible

Use available information to create a richer experience for the user — for example, information about the local tourist spots may be enhanced by weather forecasts, the current traffic status, hours of operation for nearby businesses. If possible, refer to influencing information before making a suggestion. Let’s say a person is searching for brunch recommendations; only provide results for restaurants that operate during normal brunch hours.

7. Don’t judge

You know those moments when a comment just comes out the wrong way and you’re stuck with your foot in your mouth? Help your bot avoid those moments. Be considerate of the types of interactions that a customer service bot might have with a user. For example, let’s say a user is engaging with a bot to return some clothes. If you would like to gather more information about the return, it’s best to ask the user about the way the item fits, instead of asking whether the clothing is too big or too small. This type of language can inadvertently pass judgment about the user. Keep suggestions open ended, and allow the customer to lead the conversation when handling potentially sensitive interactions.

8. Do use bots in appropriate situations

Some social situations that happen in messaging platforms need extra attention and care to be handled appropriately. For example, while trying to change travel arrangements at the last minute, a user may mention that they are attending to a family emergency. This interaction is best handled by a human customer service agent who can be sensitive to the emotional state of the customer.

9. Don’t betray trust

You wouldn’t want your friends gossiping behind your back, would you? Users must often share their personal and/or sensitive information with bots. Be upfront with how a person’s information will be stored and if it will be shared with any partners. Your users build trust in their interactions with your bot over time, and sharing information without permission can be very damaging to this relationship.

10. Do add value to the conversation

Step back from programming the bot to analyze if the interaction is actually making the person’s experience easier, simpler, or more intuitive. In the same way that we strive to decrease the number of keystrokes, clicks, and taps in traditional user flows, we should also consider how to simplify the user’s experience with bots. You can also program conscientiousness into your bot code by allowing the user to give feedback to the bot, or adjust filters to influence suggestions to be more helpful.


Special thanks to Krista for revisions and edits!

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