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Chatbots are not helping your customers

The expansion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been rapid in recent years with chatbots being one of the most accessible tools for companies to tap into. However, what is a chatbot? Are chatbots a panacea for your customer service needs, or do chatbots put customers off?

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that has been designed to mimic conversation with a human user and is often used over the internet, although mobile messaging chatbots also exist. Typically it is used to assist users in some way based on its ability to interpret text messages sent it’s way. This can be a simple chatbot that uses simple keywords which lead it to propose specific answers or a smart chatbot which uses artificial intelligence to improve flexibility in answers and improve future chatbot experiences.

The idea of many chatbots is for them to work as a form of an automated assistant, whether that be through text messages, an integrated website companion offering support, or helping entrepreneurs to access a broader market. At their best, they take control of routine tasks, simultaneously process user requests, improve productivity, and help to improve a feeling of customer personalization. However, the initial love for this technology and its rapid adoption has led to some push back.

Are chatbots killing customer service?

No one likes waiting in a phone queue for hours but, equally, no one loves spending ages trying to find the right words to get a chatbot to provide you with a useful answer. Indeed, a recent customer survey of 500 UK and US customers carried out by CGS found that around 45% of all respondents preferred human agents to chatbots, with chatbots only being seen as desirable for quick customer service needs.

For complex needs email or live support with a human is often still desired, and there are issues around chatbots for people who have different abilities with technology. When users realize they are talking to a chatbot, and this has not been apparent, this can also cause frustration and some users feel a bond of trust broken. A 2016 study even found people who were predisposed to using chatbots found it “creepy” if the bot pretended it was human.

One of the significant issues with the rapid rise of chatbots is that it has been seen as a low hanging fruit of AI that can be utilized to deal with staff shortages or even to cut staff. This different driving force means it has often been implemented without the customer in mind, and the overreliance on this sometimes poorly designed technology can be a real turnoff for customers.

How can companies use chatbots better?

The important thing is not to over-rely on the technology before it is ready. They are useful tools for basic customer service issues and can be used to triage more complex tasks to live human agents so should be not be seen as a way to reduce staff but to improve the tools available to them. Overuse of chatbots tends to turn off customers before long meaning initial savings could fast turn into losses.

A fundamental way we can use chatbots better, then, is to use them to enhance decision-making within organizations and help to streamline processes. Typically people have seen chatbots as useful external tools, but using them internally can massively improve workflow by reducing tedious interactions within the team, improve productivity in customer service through assistance rather than replacement, and putting staff time to better use on the more complex tasks not suited to limited chatbot technology.

If we use chatbots in these ways, we can ensure that employees are happier as less of their time is spent on menial tasks, can help staff find the answers quicker, and we are also able to improve outcomes as simple questions can be easily dealt with whilst complex ones can be allocated to the right person. Despite some issues reported with interactions with AI, most people expect and accept it for at least part of their interaction, recognizing that it can help speed up the processing of their issue.

What is the future of chatbots?

Like with most AI, the future of chatbots will likely be led by our interactions with the internet through Google. Recognizing the issues with non-human seeming chatbots that cannot deal with complex issues and make us feel cold inside, they have designed a system capable of delivering AI-driven voice answers in realtime in Google Duplex. This assistant can set up restaurant reservations by interacting with employees at a restaurant, turning the traditional chatbot methodology on its head with the customer ‘chatbotting’ the business!

Currently, this is being trialled in 43 states and focused solely on restaurant bookings to provide them with the necessary data to do far more complex tasks such as booking doctor’s appointments that require more care with data protection. The bot also informs respondents that it is a bot from the outset to build trust and rapport and get all its AI cards on the table. This system is still in its early stages but shows that chatbots, used appropriately, can have an important role in improving customer service.

Chatbots have burst onto the scene, meaning that they have often been used for the wrong reasons. The technology has many benefits for customer service if it used to help staff find the answers quicker rather than as a cost-cutting technique. Google Duplex also shows that the chatbot of the future will be customer driven.