Writing for chatbots

Be friendly while helping to complete the task

Tailor the tone of the chatbot’s responses to the context. If it’s something serious—like billing or cybersecurity—be empathetic but brief and straightforward. If it’s a more mundane situation (like creating a new account), the tone can be more relaxed. And a chatbot for Xbox can be lighthearted and casual.

See Microsoft’s brand voice

Be honest and build trust

  • Make sure users know that they’re not chatting with a person. For example, have the bot introduce itself as a virtual support agent. The message can be brief—research shows that customers are usually aware that they’re chatting with a bot.

  • Explain what the chatbot’s purpose is and what it can and can’t do. Good ways of framing the functionality are suggesting a first task or place to begin, or providing buttons or shortcuts for the most frequent tasks.

  • Admit when things get messed up. And have a plan for dealing with the situation.

  • Plan for common misspellings and errors. These don’t derail human-to-human conversations, and being able to accommodate them will build the user’s confidence in the chatbot.

Accept—and plan for—the chatbot’s limitations

There are some questions a chatbot just won’t have an answer for.

  • Make it clear to the user that the chatbot has a very specific role. Don’t imply an open-ended, “Ask me anything” role.

  • Be prepared for when the chatbot doesn’t know the answer, and have it point the customer in the right direction.

  • Decide what conversational cues will prompt the chatbot to escalate to a human. At key points in the conversation, let the customer know how they can get help from a human, if they want to.

Keep it simple, and keep it short

Customers abandon a chat when the prompts are lengthy. To keep your writing simple and straightforward, use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level feature in Microsoft Word or an app like Hemingwayapp.com to figure out the grade level of your scripts. In general, the lower the grade level, the better.

Anticipate mischief

Plan how the chatbot should respond when users start to play games with it—for example, asking the same question over and over to test it, using offensive language, or asking nonsense questions. An appropriate response shows that the chatbot can be relevant and helpful, if given a chance. Humor can be effective, but be careful: a humorous response to an offensive question can backfire.

Be a good listener

  • Invite the user into the conversation on a regular basis by asking questions or making suggestions.

  • Respond to the customer in a timely manner. If the chatbot is taking a while to process the customer’s request, use, “I’m thinking” or the typing indicator to let the customer know the chatbot is working on a response.

  • Boost the relevance of the chatbot’s responses by making them specific to the context. For example, say, “Here’s how you change your privacy settings,” not “Here’s how you do that.”

Remember whose side you’re on

The chatbot is working on behalf of the customer and is there to serve the customer. It’s not there for Microsoft’s benefit.

Watch your pronouns: I, me, my

The chatbot uses I, me, and my to refer to itself.

When the customer communicates to the chatbot, they also use I, me, or my. Make sure those pronouns appear on buttons, links, or other elements of the chatbot that the user selects.

Recognize common words

People are familiar with words like help, settings, start over, and stop. Make sure your chatbot recognizes and responds to them.