With the rise of the mobile, always-on consumer, it is easier than ever for customers to demand immediate responsiveness from brands. Companies are expected to deliver fast, reliable customer service across channels and are under pressure to incorporate new tools and processes to engage with customers wherever they are.

Fielding messages into traditional help desks has historically resulted in longer wait times and a disorganized messaging experience for support representatives. Enter the chatbots. Chatbots assist in solving simple, quick-response needs, leaving more time for customer service representatives to focus on complex customer demands and high-touch interactions.

In recent years, bot-enhanced customer support use has increased, due in part to new technology that allows businesses to easily identify and resolve customer problems through messaging services. As bots continue to grow in popularity, experts speculate whether the automated technology has arrived or still has a long journey ahead. While that debate will likely continue for some time, here are a few things companies should keep in mind as they invest in bot-enhanced support.

Bots are a-changin’

Bot development has changed a lot since the mid-2000s, when virtual assistants in Live Chat were all the rage. Back then, customer questions were answered by pulling from a predetermined directory of responses. Naturally, these responses were oftentimes unhelpful and out of context. Studying those first bot interactions has led to advancements in intelligent technology, making way for developments in natural language understanding (NLU) which seeks to understand the intent behind questions. Paired with advancements in artificial intelligence (A.I.), today’s technology is helping bots “think” rather than regurgitating pre-assigned answers. Furthermore, A.I. powers tools such as “deep learning,” which analyzes public customer information and helps customize bots for ultimate customer service.

Twitter was one of the first platforms to embrace social messaging for business-to-consumer (B2C) communication. Now we’ve seen companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft open their platforms to bot and app developers. With the public showing signs of “app fatigue,” the hope is that chatbots will provide a gateway for brands seeking to engage customers on a more personal level. While the technology is far from perfect, these are exciting advancements in customer services.

Bots and humans: the perfect relationship

The ideal customer service offering combines the power of bots and humans. The bottom line: When a customer reaches a point of frustration, an automated response just won’t do. There will inevitably be some situations that bots simply aren’t trained for. Businesses will have to choose the right use cases for automation and build in the right handovers, or escape hatches, to let customers talk to human operators when it’s sensible to do so.

Human responses are essential in training bots to answer the “tougher” questions. Interactions between representatives and customers provide a loop of responses for bots to learn from. The support products of the future will alert human operators when the A.I.’s confidence level is low. By taking over in those situations, the human agents will not just assist the customer, their responses will also help the A.I. learn. Over time, this knowledge will organically help to expand the bot’s capabilities.

Keep in mind, however, that bots are still just that… bots. Those with human-like personalities (e.g. Siri), while entertaining, can be downright frustrating if they deliver limited functionality. Leveraging bots as a means to enhance the customer experience could be the best way to manage customer expectations and ensure stronger customer relationships, but the key is designing a bot flow that gives customers the option to reach a real person, if that becomes necessary.

All bots are not created equal

When it comes to deploying the right chatbot for your business, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Companies have to ensure that the bots they integrate have the scale, technology, and intelligence to handle their specific tasks. As with all customer service interactions, it’s critical to understand the user’s intent to best support their needs. This may take more than the simple automated responses that a lower-tech bot can provide and may require a messaging platform that is integrated with customer records and leverages powerful automation, analytics, and integrations.

Messaging is viewed as the customer communication channel of the future because it’s more immediate than email, yet more convenient than calling a company or going to the website to live chat. Whether deploying tools to help streamline questions for a small business or providing around-the-clock service for an international corporation, bots must be able to deliver fast response times and manage high volumes of conversations.

Today, customers require increasing levels of personalization. For some companies, this first stage of bot-enhanced support has allowed them to reach customers where they are. Amex bot for Facebook Messenger, for example, lets consumers see real-time purchase alerts and key information about American Express benefits — bringing personalized and proactive support right to their devices.

While this phase of bot technology is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still so much more to learn. With an understanding of the rapidly changing technology, a focus on providing a human element, and a plan for deploying chats at scale, the future of chatbots for your business is bright.

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook