Use a Chatbot to Answer Members’ FAQs

When your members ask questions via social media, do you respond? It might be hard to keep up. When one association was faced with an onslaught of direct messages, it built a chatbot to answer frequently asked questions.

Your member services team might be good at picking up the phone or replying to a member’s email with 24 hours, but when was the last time you checked your direct messages on social media?

The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, which is powered by the American Institute of CPAs and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, receives more than 1,500 direct messages each month via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Even though AICPA is a large global association, resource constraints and time zone differences made it difficult for the member services team to answer every question promptly.

“Those queries were in addition to the already high volume of calls and emails our global member service was receiving,” says Chrissy Jones, AICPA’s lead manager of communications and member engagement. “We wanted to find a solution that would allow us to respond to member and student inquiries in a timely, consistent, and accurate manner.”

To do this, AICPA powered up a chatbot. While bots may seem like a futuristic tool, in today’s digital economy they are quickly becoming a necessity for the customer and member service experience.

The stats speak for themselves: 71 percent of Facebook users and 83 percent of Twitter users expect a response to a question on the same day of posting. And chat-based forms of communication are on the rise, especially with younger audiences. WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger are three popular platforms dedicated to instant-chat communications.

How can your association use bots to serve members better? Start small and test a tool that configures well with your existing social media presence. Here are the steps that AICPA took to get its bot up and running.

Gather the Team

AICPA started by bringing together the right internal team—including staff from IT, member services, social media, and finance—who would decide what the bot would do and where it would live online. AICPA designed its bot for Facebook but may roll it out on other platforms in the near future.

“After research and ideation, we determined that a chatbot, preloaded with our FAQs, would handle a large percentage of inbound inquiries, providing members with immediate and accurate responses to their most pressing questions,” Jones says. “This solution would help free up staff time, enhance member satisfaction, and allow the social media staff to easily forward questions to our member service department when necessary.”

Your association might have different goals for a bot. Perhaps you want to build one that works with voice-enabled technology, like Amazon’s Alexa, or maybe you want to create a chatbot assistant for staff support, something that plugs into an office collaboration tool, like Slack. Identifying your goals for the bot is the first step.

When it came time to build, AICPA added another team member: It selected Google Dialog Flow, a bot developer, to help with the project.

Test and Train

Before rolling out the tool to Facebook, AICPA used a small group of volunteers and staff to test and train the bot.

“We didn’t give too many specific instructions. We wanted them to test how natural it felt to interact with our bot,” says Stacie Saunders, associate director of communications and member engagement. “We did this on a closed platform before launching a live version.”

That training is a necessity for any tool powered by artificial intelligence. You’re essentially giving shape to an advanced algorithm with variations of phrases—hard data—from which the machine can learn to recognize, respond, and provide correct answers.

AICPA’s bot also uses what’s known as “quick replies,” clickable buttons with predefined user responses that link to AICPA web pages, where more information is available. Here’s what it looks like when a user engages the bot in “conversation”:

In most cases, the bot can deliver the correct answer to an individual in seconds or minutes. But that doesn’t mean the tool completely replaces staff support. For more technical questions, the bot directs the user to phone or email contacts. Still, it has enabled AICPA to dramatically decrease its staffing and other resources used to answer common direct-message questions submitted on Facebook.

Imagine you had a bot to support member services. How would you use it? Or if you have one, share your story. Post your comments below.

(anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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