Chatbots, a kind of interactive AI that emulates human interaction by voice or message, have been on the rise in recent years. With large companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google using chatbots to process orders, resolve customer service queries or create more individualized product recommendations to drive sales, other businesses might also be wondering how this technology could benefit them, and how it would impact their public perception and PR efforts.

Chatbots’ Role in Public Relations

While chatbots can be used for a multitude of things, their main role from a PR perspective would be handling customer care. This could be via a chat directly located on a company’s website or even by using popular messenger apps such as WhatsApp, Line or Skype. Since chatbots can be programmed in a variety of ways, they can be used to answer frequently asked questions, or quickly escalate more complex issues to a human customer service agent.

Shortening Response Time Efficiently

With consumers expecting their queries to be answered in ever shorter periods of time, chatbots can offer a great solution. Where 24 hours’ response time used to be generally accepted, this time has now been cut down to only a few hours, especially when people are reporting a problem. Using chatbots can help companies cope with this development in a way that is both cost-effective, efficient and satisfactory to businesses and their customers.

Keeping the Human Element

While to some it might sound like chatbots could take over the entire customer service department, it is important to understand that today’s bots can only do so much. They are good at understanding a variety of ways of asking the same question, answering FAQs efficiently and thoroughly, and providing solutions to simple issues with a product or service. But if a more complex problem arises which requires creative thinking, bots will be at a loss. This is where it is and most likely will remain important to forward cases to a real person that can treat them appropriately.

Failing to do this, could lead to frustration among customers who will perceive dissatisfactory results as the company not caring enough about its clients. And with negative social media comments and review pages only a short click away, this is not something that should be taken lightly.

That being said, using chatbots wisely can free up a lot of time for customer service executives, giving them the chance to go above and beyond customer expectations by building strong relationships and creating a sense of value.

Programming Chatbots

Apart from expecting too much from chatbots, the basic set-up is also something that should be looked at very closely. Depending on the company’s style, image and target market, a bot will need to be programmed differently.

It is important to consider this, as the chatbot will be taking on a role as the company’s spokesperson when interacting with customers. This means that it needs to convey a business’ values in a style that is true to brand standards. Doing this will make the brand consistent and reliable in the eyes of the public, which in turn builds trust.

Skipping this point will have the opposite effect. A company targeting lifestyle-conscious millennials, for example, would do best not to have chatbots use impersonal, corporate language. Doing so would result in a watered-down brand and confused customers.

Managing Bot Bugs

Using chatbots can bring a company many benefits. From highly efficient customer service responses to increased sales, everything is possible. However, sometimes the bots get something wrong. In this case, it is important to have a strong PR partner that can help mitigate any negative feedback and comments.

This could involve simply responding to a complaint, or even dealing with an outright crisis. A good example of this is Microsoft’s Tay, an AI chatbot that was supposed to interact with people on Twitter, but quickly became corrupted due to users’ inappropriate tweets. After only a day, Microsoft had to shut the bot down as it was repeating racist, hateful content.

A PR crisis response team had to explain to the public what had happened and apologized. Having a strong PR partner at this time was crucial for Microsoft as it helped the company turn the situation around and avoid this issue shedding a negative light on them and their reputation.