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Chatbots are nothing new – surprisingly, the technology dates to the 1950s. Chatbots in social media, however, are currently all the rage. But there are considerations to be made before overhauling your customer service efforts on social media to be trendy or because a vendor told you to.

While chatbots can deliver instant information to consumers and may seem ideal to manage large volumes of conversation, their presence runs counter to what makes social media special. The main reason social media has been so successful from brands in the past decade is because it brought back one to one conversations.

Brands benefitted because they could quickly and effectively fix issues that faced their customers. They achieved cost savings by shifting efforts from email and phone systems, gathered valuable data and solved issues, which increased customer satisfaction.

Consumers benefitted because they saved time and could get quick resolution on simple issues such as product defects or service issues.  Interactions with brands could now be handled on their time. Social media allowed consumers to bypass automated phone systems, scripted phone conversations with overseas call centers and business hours that were less than ideal for those with full-time jobs or otherwise busy schedules. The formula still works today, across industries, but chatbots threaten to destroy that.

Brands focused on their bottom line instead of customer interests can use chat bots for 24/7 automated responses on Facebook. Nobody wants that. Chatbots are already commonplace on the web for many verticals like the telecom industry and they are just as frustrating as picking up the phone and dialing a 1-800 number.

The more complicated a product offering or service, the more complicated it is to build and properly install a chatbot. Incorrect structures result in off-putting and incorrect responses that would only create more frustration from buyers or potential buyers. Canned messaging will only leave a bad impression with fans and followers.

What’s the Solution?

The ideal approach to social customer service is to stick with what’s already working. Managed channels with trusted community managers and social listening tools can help provide strategic interactions for any question or concern. Supplementing community management with chat bots for off hours can be a good model for companies who have dedicated and advanced moderation teams. But it must be done right.

Let’s say a customer reaches a retail brand after hours and receives an immediate response that someone will help them at the open of business. That would be what I consider a rare positive outcome from a chatbot that could build goodwill with the customer. But if there is a disconnect come 9 a.m. and that customer is forgotten, then extra efforts to install and utilize a chat bot have been wasted.

Customer service is challenging enough as most interactions are with dissatisfied individuals. Pleased shoppers and buyers rarely have the motivation to Tweet, DM and notify brands when they do well. Interactions with dissatisfied individuals must be approached with the utmost caution and the emergence of chatbots doesn’t change that.  

For real-time social media insights (from real people), follow @AirfoilGroup on Twitter.