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When chat bots fail: When should brands utilize live chat and why?

by Joe Sinkwitz

March 29, 2022

One of the worst customer service experiences a brand can offer is a broken chat bot. It is often perceived as worse than no support at all. Sometimes it is vital to allow users to get direct access to an employee so they can feel heard and have their concerns alleviated.

Recently, I found myself stuck in a poorly configured customer support bot on a very well-known apparel company website. I had paid for expedited shipping for a sports jersey in advance of the NCAA basketball tournament to root on my top seeded Arizona Wildcats. Something went wrong and the item was sent using the wrong shipping method. As a business owner and marketer, I understand errors happen, so I diligently tried to use the customer service bot to get the matter solved.

'Tried' is the operative word. I found myself in a repeating loop of asking for the order number, email address, and issue. It was near impossible to escape, and each loop was ticking my blood pressure up a notch. Thankfully, this giant company did one thing correctly in the bot - it allowed me to eventually escape and ask to be contacted by a live rep. Had this not have happened, the likelihood of me using the company in the future would have been low.

The difference between a chargeback and a happy customer is an uncomfortably thin line. Don't rely on a bot to always be able to put your company on the right side of that line. According to Statista, live chat satisfaction exceeds general satisfaction among customers across every industry.

Humans, as infallible as we are, cannot yet be replaced in matters of support. A negative influence was prevented, matters were made right, and the "fix" ensured repeat business in the future. Live chat can influence lifetime customer value.

In the previous article we discussed how to influencer users with chat bots. For most use cases, this is still the best way to initialize an interaction for any request that's likely to be frequently asked, such as order status, basic technical support, and scheduling. However, while chat bots might solve 90% of interactions, live chat will be necessary for the not-so-easily answered questions. So how can companies make the most of their labor costs for these edge cases?

Staff with experts, not interns

As humans we have an innate desire to look towards authorities and experts when outside of our comfort zone. Authoritative influence can guide an interaction.

It is critical that if you're using a chat bot to handle those 90% scenarios that the 10% of more difficult issues are not handled by the company intern. This isn't to speak ill of interns; there's simply a reason that upset consumers demand to speak to the manager. Not only do they want to know that they're speaking to someone with the authority to make things right, but they also want to know they are speaking with a human, who has a name and face.

Envision a scenario in which a problematic technical issue can't be solved with the bot. Who would the user rather interact with: level 1 support intern, or Susan, director of product experience?

Speaking personally as a fellow product owner, if I have access to an authority on the product, I immediately know I can drop more specifics into the chat window on what I believe is wrong and how to potentially fix it. If, however, I'm connected with a level of support so low that it's objectively worse than dealing with a chat bot due to their product knowledge, I may feel dejected and unvalued.

Live chat discounts feel more authentic

A common yet somehow underrated sales tactic when interacting with a prospective buyer that's not completely sold on a company's solution is to offer a genuine discount or value giveaway that represents sincerity. When configured within a sales bot as part of a simplified process that throws a discount to anyone that manages to click the right sequence of buttons, the service offering may feel artificially priced too high.

However, when the same discount is provided by another human whose expertise is established by name and title as the result of a conversation about the product, the offer simply "feels" more tangible and valuable.

Humans can make the right ask when assessing the relationship

It can be difficult to properly assess overall satisfaction in terms of a net promoter score (NPS) via bots, but humans can more deftly ask leading questions during an interaction to determine the likelihood of a user being satisfied and acting as a future ambassador of the brand. Bots are still too easy to misconfigure to know when to ask the right questions. A human knows when to go off script based on the emotion of a response.

A human capable of gauging the emotional state of a user knows better when to ask for a referral or offer a gift as a thank you when the perceived NPS is close to becoming an influencer for the brand. Conversely, a human knows when to elevate to a higher title.

Re-envision the example above involving the interaction a frustrated user might be having with the product when speaking with Susan, the director of product experience. Already calmer having spoken with a real person, the user is less likely to churn. Taken further, if Susan can show the user that their feedback was not only used to create an issue in GitHub for the tech team to address, but also highlights how the company's chief of product, Jim, would be reaching out when the fix is made, that can make the user begin to feel special.

As a cherry on top, Jim could provide a shout out to the user when the next product release notes are made and reference that shout out in his reply to the user. That frustrated user may now be an evangelist. One of my favorite SEO tools utilizing this strategy is Sitebulb, which will regularly publicly thank users for finding bugs and making suggestions. They likely have users for life utilizing that simple tactic.

People are expensive. People are important

It's very easy to write on the importance of connecting all chat bot processes to the appropriate departments so that the right individuals can interact with users to maximize satisfaction, sales, and future success. That said, this is an expensive endeavor. Start small. Start simple. Fix one aspect of your chat bot that's utilized the most to ensure an authoritative expert on your end exists during the coverage hours that make sense for your business. Assess its success and expand into other areas as necessary.


live chat
customer service
chat bot
customer satisfaction