As artificial intelligence technology becomes more autonomous by the day, advanced chatbots are growing to be the norm in customer support. And just like your favorite robot thriller movie, the bots are getting smarter too.

Have you ever been chatting on a live chat service with what you thought was another human, only to find that it was a computer on the other side that was answering all of your questions? (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.)

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In a survey conducted by the HubSpot Research team, 63% of respondents did not realize that they were already using AI technologies on an everyday basis. Bots now have algorithms that allow them to analyze questions, search databases, and display relevant responses for customers in a professional and human tone. So, with bot technology improving every day, you’re probably wondering, “How will my human support team keep up?”

Although chatbot technology is constantly progressing, customers still have complex emotional needs that can only be met through a dedicated, human support service. Though more and more bots are being implemented in the support world, customers still value a human connection -- because it demonstrates an individual attention to the customer’s needs.

In the same study conducted by HubSpot Research, although 53% of respondents preferred a chat bot for simple answers, only 26% were interested in using a chatbot for more complicated cases that required multi-step or complex responses. Unlike with chatbots, human reps allow customers to go deeper into issues knowing that the reps’ responses are genuine, and not automatically pre-recorded prior to the case.

If a roadblock pops up, the support rep can adapt to meet the customers’ needs in ways that a bot simply cannot. However, with bots sounding as human as you and I do now, it’s becoming increasingly challenging as a chat support agent to demonstrate this dedication, and to differentiate yourself from machines. Using personalized text coupled with a professional and dynamic tone is the best way to “sound human” on chat and create a delightful customer experience. To that end, here our four fundamental tips that can help your team deliver human customer service via live chat:

How to Sound Like a Human via Customer Support Live Chat

1. Take the time to describe what you are doing on your end and how your actions are working towards an end solution.

A positive chat support experience is highly dependent on the rep’s written communication skills. The customer can only read what your rep has written, and if the response is too short or unclear, it may cause the customer to question who, or what, is on the other side of the line. It is almost always to your advantage as a support rep on live chat to err on the side of sending more text to a customer rather than less. Take the time to describe what you are doing on your end and how your actions are working towards an end solution.

By painting a visual picture of the work you’re doing on your end, it reinforces to the customer that there is another human on the other end of the line who is physically pushing the buttons. Being more descriptive not only demonstrates that the response is unique, but also that the rep has taken the time to write out a detailed and personalized thought. Even if the case calls for a shorter response, take the time to write out full sentences, use proper grammar and punctuation, and add in the customer’s name where applicable.

This shows that you’re actively engaged in the conversation and that you care about delivering a clear message. When working in a communication medium like chat, the lack of vocal and visual representation can often feel impersonal, so focusing your attention on minor details like these can help break down these restrictive barriers.

2. It’s not just about what you say on chat, but also how you say it.

While bots may have the technical advantage of generating the faster response, they still lack the ability to comprehend complex human emotion, and they can’t always create appropriate responses based on the emotional nature of the case. It’s important to keep in mind when trying to sound human on chat that it’s not just about what you say, but also how you say it.

Think about a time where you received an email (or a text, for you millennials) when you weren’t quite sure what the intent of the message was. For example, the message “Whatever you’d like, I don’t care,” could either come off as a causal indifference or passive-aggressive retaliation.

Common communication methods like sarcasm, sympathy, anger, etc. can be misconstrued due to the lack of these vocal and physical social cues. So, to really set yourself apart from the bots, your tone and delivery are crucial in how your customer will interpret your message. A best practice here is to make your understanding of the customer’s goals clear and get confirmation from your customer that you are, in fact, working to meet their desired need.

3. Use a dynamic tone.

Since each customer will have their own unique preferences for what they consider to be excellent support, a good rule of thumb is to be dynamic with your tone.

Bots are programmed to generate a pre-recorded response, but your human instincts can pick up on how the customer feels at that moment and how you should tailor your response to meet their most pressing needs. Matching the tone of the customer is extremely important, because it builds an emotional understanding between the two parties that a robot simply cannot construct.

For example, if the customer is thrilled that you solved their case, share that feeling with them and meet their delight with positive emotion of your own. In the opposite case, where a customer may be feeling frustrated with the task at hand, take up a conservative and professional tone to demonstrate that you’re taking their case seriously. Instead of keeping a consistent and robotic demeanor, recognize that every customer is different, so your support method cannot always be one-size-fits-all. Keep in mind that the chatbot responses are canned, so it is hard to stand out from the crowd if yours are too.

4. Establish yourself as a human immediately.

In most chat interfaces, the opening message will be pre-recorded and sent out during the opening of the chat. This immediately puts into question for the customer whether they’re speaking with a real person or an automated machine.

It’s important within this first live interaction to leverage the bot message to your logistical advantage, but establish yourself as a human rep right away. Bots do serve an advantage here by breaking the ice for the rep by starting with a neutral opening response, but if the follow-up communication is as scripted as the first message, customers can feel tentative as too how in-depth they can dive into the conversation.

The best practice here is to begin with a professional, conservative tone that encourages casual communication. Ask the customer how their day is going, tell them about your own day, and show sympathy if they are frustrated about reaching out to support. Feel empowered to laugh with your customer, and use emojis when you feel it’s appropriate.

If you make a mistake, acknowledge it if you can, and put a lighthearted spin on it -- because mistakes are what make us human. Try to keep the vibe similar to if you were Facebook Messaging (or for those who remember the original AIM, IMing) a new friend that’s asking for some recommendations. This will immediately help build rapport with your customer by showing that you’re interested in building the human connection, as well as solving their problem. Doing this right off the bat also leads to a smoother conversation, because it will be clear that it’s just two humans talking to one another. Especially if your case may be shorter, or not as difficult, creating a personalized experience makes customers feel important and that their cases, no matter how trivial, is important to building an emotional connection that contributes to lasting customer loyalty.

Chatbots are an amazing advancement in automating the support process for customers, but we’re still quite some time away from bots completely replacing human reps. That’s because human emotion is the ultimate X factor when a pre-written response cannot always solve the problem.

Bots may be a step ahead in recalling documented information, but they still lack the competency in emotional intelligence that can only be matched by another human. This makes it all the more important as a support rep to make it clear that you’re providing live support and creating a memorable, personalized experience that delights the customer. As long as people still have complex and unique needs, chatbots are, for now, an excellent complementary tool that can extend the bandwidth of your support team -- and still highlight the irreplaceable value brought by a human support rep.

To learn more, read about how to implement Slack customer support next.

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Originally published Jun 4, 2018 7:00:00 AM, updated April 17 2020


Customer Support