Twitter Is Now Offering Brands Customer Service Chatbots to Use in Direct Messages

Evernote, Pizza Hut and Airbnb among the first on board

Twitter is upping its chatbot game.

To better help brands converse with users and offer customer support, the company is launching two new products that will help answer basic questions and address complaints. The features announced today let companies partner with nearly a dozen third-party services to build automated-message systems specific to each brand.

One of the new products, Welcome Messages, lets businesses "greet" users when they receive a direct message by automatically replying with information about what they can expect from the online exchange. Another product, Quick Replies, lets businesses prompt users on how to get their questions answered without involving a human (or if they need a living, breathing person, to know how they can find one to talk to), not unlike an automated system for customer-service calls.

Nearly a dozen brands are launching automated messaging services using Twitter's new products, including Evernote, Pizza Hut, Spotify, Tesco, Norton and Airbnb.

Automated messaging isn't entirely new to the platform. In fact, according to Twitter product manager Ian Cairns, users and businesses have been building bots for tweets and DMs since 2007. But today's announcement marks the first large-scale launch in a quickly growing area that marries machine learning and artificial intelligence with user experience.

Cairns said Twitter has served as a customer-service tool for businesses since long before the platform started offering ads. However, until this year, the company hadn't added any products focused specifically on customer service. Cairns was quick to downplay the focus on bots. 

"Bots are not the why," Cairns told Adweek. "They're the how. There's no consumer we've spoken with that's said they really want to talk to a bot. But what people want is convenience and speed."

According to Gerald Hastie, Evernote's director of global customer service, Twitter continues to play a 'key role" in customer support, both in terms of reach and general communication.

"Twitter allows us to scale our support without giving up our desire to provide a personal touch," Hastie told Adweek in an email. "Serious business happens in direct messages. Private and personalized conversations are where consumers get the most impactful help on Twitter, and this new automation tool helps to enhance that experience."

To help scale the number of companies using the new features, a dozen partners are working with Twitter's API to build branded bots. Launch partners include Assist, Audiense, Conversable, Conversocial, Dexter, Hobbynote, Lithium, Massively, Promixa, Rozie, Spredfast, Sprinklr and Sprout Social. Starting today, brands can set up default welcome messages through the support settings page on Twitter's dashboard.

The number of tweets from customers to brands' customer-service handles is on the rise, with total volume increasing two and a half times in the past two years. Direct messages across the platform are also rising steadily. According to the company's first-quarter earnings letter to shareholders, total unique DMs were up nearly 50 percent in the past year.

From Twitter's perspective, better customer service leads to better sales. A study released in October with Applied Marketing Science found that customers who tweeted at businesses and received responses were willing to spend 3 percent to 20 percent more on average-priced items in the future.

Despite the increased use of bots, Cairns said, the goal isn't to replace human interactions.

"It's really important that we maintain all of the benefits and existing uniqueness of Twitter in that it's a place where you can consistently go to a business to talk to a person," he said. "It's really cool how humanizing a conversation on Twitter can be with a global brand."