As bots invade Messenger, brands still prefer human touch on Twitter

Bots versus humans: That’s the choice brands like Hyatt are now confronted with in their social media customer service efforts. An automated chatbot, like the legion that Facebook Messenger just unleashed on the world, might be able to help a guest book a room. But can it anticipate the need for a cocktail?

Brands know their customers are increasingly expecting speedy answers wherever they fire off a message. Dan Moriarty, digital director at Hyatt, said the hotel mostly relies on Twitter for customer outreach, and even though his team began using Messenger recently, it’s not ready to replace humans with bots just yet on any channel.

“We view everything we do with Twitter, Facebook and WeChat, and all the different guys, as a very natural extension of our business, which is all about providing care — a hospitality-based experience,” Moriarty said in a recent phone interview.

Hyatt likes to surprise guests and can only do that if a person is on the other end of a conversation. Moriarty described one instance when a guest tweeted from the pool that all was perfect except the lack of a drink. That’s when the social team sprung into action and delivered a surprise cocktail. Could a bot do that?

Hyatt has a team of 50 responding to hundreds of thousands of Twitter comments a year, whether they are directed at the hotel or whether the hotel is just mentioned in passing.

Moriarty thinks a bot might be useful to take care of some basic booking functions through a platform like Messenger, but not for customer service.

“If there is a way to use a bot, it would be when a guest wants a transactional interaction to occur quicker, and a bot would be quicker, but we’re not looking at a reduction in the human kind of connection,” Moriarty said. “There’s a heavy sensitivity toward people wanting to talk to each other.”

Twitter promotes its platform as a customer service channel for major brands looking to extract value from every interaction. A complaint could turn into a win for a brand, if handled right, and by a human, said Chris Moody, head of Twitter’s data team and co-founder of Gnip, which Twitter bought to boost its customer listening capabilities.

“If they’re friendly, they’re personable, meaning they’re not robotic, and they’re responsive, do it within a reasonable timeframe, brands have found they suddenly have a much more open-minded customer,” Moody said. “If I can get a more open-minded conversation going with customers, that leads to all sort of opportunities to increase brand value and sales.”

Last week, Target showed the power of Twitter triage when it saw one of its dresses trending. People were tweeting that the dress’ print made it look like the wearer was having an accident with her period. Instead of pulling the dress from shelves, the social team had a fun reply and turned the narrative.

Messenger is hoping to throw old wisdom out the window about what bots could do for consumers, even if the public is wary. Messenger released its bot store this week and brands, publishers and developers were clearly eager to try them out. In the first few days, the bots have proved only slightly more useful than trying to converse with a talking string toy.

One bot from weather app, Poncho, couldn’t even respond to a simple query about whether it would rain.

Still, Facebook presents a formidable challenge to Twitter as the go-to customer service channel. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, showing off Messenger’s new capabilities at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, noted the platform’s scale advantage — more customers companies might want to reach.

Faced with the challenge, Twitter has made the customer service tools a cornerstone of its growth plans. “Twitter has definitely refocused on customer support. When Jack [Dorsey] took back over he saw the value in how much customer support takes place on the channel and made it a priority,” said Chug Abramowitz, Spotify’s vp of customer service.

Spotify is monitoring the developments at Messenger but is trained on Twitter for most of its social media consumer outreach, Abramowitz said. Spotify entertains customers who need help whether finding a lost song playlist or making a payment.

Spotify’s team of 70 is known to resolve an issue, and then even put a human touch on the interaction by sending a user a specially crafted playlist.

“They like to basically have fun with the customers and once we solve their issue maybe send special message or do something that puts a smile on their face. We call them RAKs — random acts of kindness,” Abramowitz said.

It’s the kind of service bots aren’t quite ready for. “They’re really not that sophisticated yet,” Abramowitz said.

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