How to Get What You Want From a Customer Service Chatbot

Want to get customer service on the line? You can—but it might not be a human. These days, AI-powered customer service chatbots are becoming the customer service contact of choice for businesses in all kinds of industries.

AI chatbots can do a lot to help

Consider the advantages:

  • AI chatbots can be fast. Sometimes, especially if you’ve just got a quick question, a chatbot can quickly provide answers. No tracking down a phone number, waiting on hold or being transferred to another department—just an easy answer right in the corner of your screen.
  • AI chatbots can point you in the right direction. Even if a chatbot doesn’t provide your final answer, it may be able to provide you with more information more quickly than a phone call would. It can let you know which department you need to talk to in customer service, let you know if there is a real-time issue on their end that’s keeping you from your desired task or reroute you to a human who can get you what you need.
  • AI chatbots can provide 24/7 support. Call centers are sometimes only staffed during regular business hours, but we often need help on nights and weekends, too. Chatbots can work around the clock, so you don’t have to wait until morning for a quick fix.

In short, a chatbot for customer service can handle a lot of the common questions that customers have.

While the technology that powers chatbots is improving by the minute (especially with the advent of accessible generative AI technology!), it can be frustrating going back and forth with a computer instead of a person. But you can take steps to make your chatbot conversations more seamless and productive.

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5 tips for interacting with a customer service chatbot

1. Be direct in all your interactions

Though customer service chatbots are designed to be as human-like as possible, they’re just not at the level of a chatty person. Chatbots operate best when receiving a simple, direct order.

If it asks “How can I help you?” steer clear of a response like “I tried to order a new dress for my cousin’s wedding but it’s the wrong size and I don’t know how to print the return label.” Instead, you can keep it simple with “Return order.”

2. Give it one specific command at a time

Most sophisticated chatbots can handle all your requests, but unlike a human, they’ll operate a lot better if you give them one specific step at a time.

Take the example above with the dress. Rather than saying you don’t know how to print the return label and saying you also need a replacement dress before Saturday, keep those requests separate. First, ask for help getting the return label. Then, indicate you’d like a replacement product. Then, let it know you need expedited shipping. Too much at once and the chatbot could become confused, making it more frustrating for you to deal with.

At any point in the process, the chatbot may need more information from you, or may direct you to a human if the transaction becomes more complex. But you’ll get to that endpoint faster and more seamlessly if you give it one request at a time.

3. Follow its lead when possible

Most chatbots are designed to give you a few different options to keep your query moving forward, especially if it doesn’t quite understand something you’ve said.

For instance, during the conversation about returning an item, it might say something like “Sounds good! So you’d like to return the product?” It might be frustrating to reiterate something you thought you’d already made clear, but just follow its lead. It’s confirming that it’s sending you to the right place, and responding with a quick “yes” is probably still going to lead to a faster result than getting on the phone.

4. Come to the conversation prepared

You typically have all the time you need when it comes to chatting with a chatbot, so don’t feel rushed or frazzled if it asks for information you need a few minutes to find. But to keep the exchange running smoothly, try to be ready with any information that will be useful, like an order number for a retail transaction, the dates you’ve experienced a problem, the history of your previous interactions or your account number.

If it asks for something you don’t have, make sure you tell it as clearly as possible that you’re unable to provide that information. A simple “I don’t know” usually suffices, and it may then redirect you toward a human representative.

5. Remember what works and what doesn’t

Keep in mind what got you great results with past chatbots—and what didn’t—and apply those techniques to future interactions. And remember, you may have more experience working with AI-powered tech than you realize! If you’ve got Alexa at home or talk to Siri, you already know the best way to get those systems to work for you.

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