8 Surprising Ways to Break a Chatbot

Chatbot essentials | BotSurfer Blogger
For all of the good chatbots have brought to businesses in recent years, they are still far from foolproof. Chatbots work with a specific set of information, and so there are only a finite number of ways the chatbot can respond to customer queries. Should a customer ask something outside of the chatbot’s scope, it will “break” and default back to the original question, or it’ll tell the customer that it doesn’t understand.

While the customers are not technically "breaking" or damaging the chatbot, they are forcing it to give them an error message. There are several ways the bot can end up doing this, and we’re going to walk through a few of them. This way, as a customer, you'll know what to avoid so you don’t end up going in circles with the chatbot trying to get the answers you need.

How to Break a Chatbot - Eight Ways

When businesses create chatbots, they want them to be as helpful as possible for the people who use them. However, some responses or nuances of human speech can throw the bot off the scent, and lead to you a dead end. 

1 - Tell the Chatbot to Reset or Start Over 

Maybe you came to the end of your line of questioning and you wanted to look at other information. If you ask the chatbot to start over or reset, it confuses them. They’re not sure what you want, and most chatbots will tell you they don’t understand. If it doesn’t get you anywhere, you may have to shut the chatbot down and start from square one. 

While this isn’t an enormous problem, it can be frustrating. This is especially true if the chatbot asks you for a significant amount of information before it leads you to any products or services, as you may need to input this information again. Ideally, chatbots should have a key phrase or word that triggers a new question. 

2 - Use Filler Language 

When people talk, they typically insert filler noises such as “ummm” or “ohhh.” If you’re talking to another human, they’ll understand that you don’t mean anything by this except you’re searching for what to say. Bots, on the other hand, may not understand. 

If you were to type one of the above examples of filler noise into a chat, the bot would most likely give you a generic response like “Let’s talk about that,” or “Tell me more.” You’d clarify what you meant to get the bot back on track so you can find the answers to your questions. 

 3 - Ask Whatever Is on the Display Button

When you open a chat, you’ll see several display buttons in most cases. If you were to type in whatever this phrase happens to be instead of selecting the button, this is usually enough to throw out an error message from the bot. 

Most chatbots are set up with preset options that trigger a line of questions from the bot. When you type this option instead of clicking the button, the bot doesn’t know how to respond. Some bots may simply continue with their introductory spiel, while others will ask for further clarification. 

4 - Answering Outside the Pre-Selected Responses 

It’s easier for businesses to program a chatbot to follow logical conversation flows when they can direct their customers with set responses. This is why you may see several pre-set answers in the form of buttons when you engage with some chatbots. For example, say you were chatting with a bot and trying to find a gift for your child. The buttons will most likely come up as “boy” or “girl.” If you were to skip this question and type in “my child,” the chatbot wouldn’t know what to do with the answer. 

Ideally, the chatbot will have several relevant responses available in case you were to forego these pre-selected responses and type something else in. But since there are an almost unlimited number of possible human responses, many bots stick to a core few and force you to select one from this list if you want to move forward. 

5 - Ask for Help or Assistance 

Funnily enough, many chatbots don’t know what to do when you ask them for assistance or help. Companies don’t always make it clear what you’re supposed to type in to prompt the chatbot to guide the conversation. You could start by typing something along the lines of “help,” “agent,” or “what can I do” to get the ball rolling. 

If the chatbot is programmed to deal with this instance, it’ll usually display a short menu of pre-set options. When you pick one, it’ll guide you towards a solution to your original question. 

6 - Answer the Question with Non-Traditional Answers 

Chatbots like straightforward "yes" and "no" answers. This is how they are programmed, and you can throw a chatbot off if you don’t answer with these options. For example, if the chatbot asks you if you’d like to look at x product, and you answer with a “nope,” the chatbot would most likely return with an error message. 

Companies should work on adding variants to traditional "yes" or "no" responses, to help the bot mimic human speech patterns. Ideally, you'd be able to type in things like "yea", "nope”, "nah", and "ya", and get a response without confusing the bot.

7 - Say Goodbye

At the end of the conversation, tell the bot "goodbye" and see what happens. For many, it'll give you a prompt that asks for clarification. Companies forget this very simple part of the programming. Ideally, once you say "goodbye" the chatbot should respond, in kind or ask if there was anything else it could assist you with.  

8 - Ask Odd Questions 

Depending on the chatbot’s intended use, you can break it by asking odd questions that have very little to do with whatever product or service the brand offers. It’s also possible to ask open-ended or hypothetical questions, or even rhetorical questions.

Since a bot can’t understand this, it’ll most likely ask you to elaborate. It could even tell you that it doesn’t understand. For example, you could ask the bot, “I hear music, do you?” and see what it responds. Many times, you’ll get a generic response where the bot tells you it doesn’t know what you mean. 

Popular Uses for Chatbots 

Now that you know how to break a chatbot, we’ll outline several popular uses for them. This way, you’ll know where you can put each bot through its paces and see what it can do.

Social Media 

Facebook Messenger and Twitter are two huge social media platforms, and both have embraced chatbots. For Twitter, the bots will typically send you a message if you follow them, to try to sell the brands' products or services to you. Facebook Messenger bots are popular with businesses that want to engage with their customers at a time that is convenient for the customer. You use them to find answers to questions about products, services, the business itself, or frequently asked questions.

Conversational Marketing

Conversational marketing is the art of using a conversation to encourage customers or prospective customers along the sales funnel. This marketing tactic is relatively new, but it has gained a lot of traction with businesses of all sizes. The chatbot is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to engage with the customer and help answer their questions or address their concerns. 

Order Processing 

The food industry uses chatbots for their order processing. Taco Bell, Domino’s, and Whole Foods use chatbots to connect with their customers. Customers can use the chatbot to place and pay for orders, and modify them if necessary. Domino’s has a tracker app that allows customers to see when their food is on the way in real-time. Starbucks has a chatbot in their app that lets them order and modify their coffee, pay for it, and it’ll let them know when it’s ready to pick up. 

Create Your Own Chatbot with Botsurfer 

Are you ready to create your own chatbot and use our guide to help avoid common programming pitfalls so customers can’t break it? If so, Botsurfer can help. You can sign up and explore our software suite while building your own chatbot today!

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