At Facebook’s annual F8 conference this week, experts convened a panel to discuss best practices for designing chatbots. The key takeaway? Don’t force people to use chatbots.
The panel “Let’s Chat About Bots” gathered representatives from four companies that have built robust bots for interacting with customers onFacebook’s chat platform Messenger: Anastasia Sartan cofounder and CEO of the Russian e-commerce site Epytom Stylist; Hussein Fazal, CEO of the travel booking site SnapTravel; Felipe Bernal, head of product innovation at the Brazilian IT company Movile; and Chema Alonso, head of digital at the telecom giant Telefonica. Angelique Kamara, of Facebook Messenger Partnerships, moderated.
“When we were analyzing how different types of customers were interacting with internet services, a lot of people preferred point and click, others preferred to chat with a bot,” said Alonso. “…We didn’t want to force one specific channel. We wanted to be in the channels our customers love. And Facebook Messenger is one of them.”
Chatbots have been heralded as the business world’s next great interaction paradigm, letting companies both automate and personalize messages to users. In theory, this creates the sort of exemplary customer service you’d expect from talking to a person, but at a fraction of the cost.
In practice? Bots work best when they’re just one tool in a company’s arsenal, said Fazal whose company SnapTravel allows customers to book travel through Messenger, SMS, or Slack. Currently, 80% of SnapTravel’s bookings are made without any human interaction. The other 20% “usually happens when the customer has a specific question, such as, ‘I am about to book this hotel, but I fly in early. Is it possible to get an early check-in?'” Fazal writes in an email to Co.Design.
“A bot is a great way to start,” Fazal said at F8. “But when you’re browsing hotels and you want to see exactly where a hotel is on the Las Vegas strip, obviously chat doesn’t’ work, and UI is much better. If your flight gets canceled, and you booked a non-refundable hotel, you want to chat with a human.”
Fazal’s advice: “Give the user all the options and let them use what makes sense for them at the given time.”