Are customers ready for chatbots?

Are customers ready for chatbots?

People’s experiences with customer service hotlines, hold queues, unhelpful advisors, and being passed endlessly from one person to the next. Often in the space of one interaction – have lowered customers’ expectations. This has resulted in phone calls evolving to become a last resort. The antidote, according to some tech-focused news spaces, is AI-powered customer services like chatbots.

Enabled by machine learning, chatbots are designed to interact with people in a human-like manner, reducing the need for call centre staff and reducing a company’s costs while delivering a faster, more efficient service.

At the end of 2017, around 70% of all use cases in AI were related to customer service and call centres. And Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.

But humans are naturally social beings who thrive off interaction, and there’s evidence to suggest that person-to-person support is still important to customers – especially when the problem they’re addressing is a complex one.

How are customers interacting with chatbots?

Some days the ‘robots are taking our jobs’ narrative seems to prevail more than others, and a level of fear still bubbles under the excitement of this relatively fledgling tech. Research has shown that 21% of people in the UK think that AI would be ‘the end of the world’, despite 58.48% of people stating they’d happily deal with an AI-powered customer service function over a human-powered one.

When people were asked for the main reasons they’d likely turn to a chatbot, a report by Drift found that 34% of consumers predicted that they’d use them as a way to connect with a human, while others predicted they’d use them to get quick answers to questions in an emergency (37%), and resolve a complaint or problem (35%).

What are chatbots doing well?

Quick answers to simple questions are a chatbot’s tour de force: 80% of call centre queries cover the same 20 questions at most, according to a survey by Chatbots Magazine, and these are the questions of which chatbots thrive.

Customers who would previously have spent significant chunks of time on the phone searching for answers to relatively straightforward questions can now receive them in minutes, via platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and WeChat, as well as through chatbot pop-ups on a company’s website.

People are hardwired to respond emotionally to everything around them, and emotionally intelligent AI is still in the early days of its development. Chatbots’ fundamental lack of human emotion was noted by customers as both a positive and negative – the former due to its ability to quickly churn out answers to frequently asked questions, and the latter because of its inability to engage with humans in a way they understand.

A study showed that 27% of people believe an AI-powered chatbot could deliver a better customer service than a human one – with women slightly more optimistic than men at 28% compared to 24% respectively – and yet the mass adoption of this machine learning-enabled technology remains far from a foregone conclusion.

And when is human interaction preferred?

As the questions posed by customers to chatbots get increasingly complex, so people’s belief in the technology’s ability to provide answers diminishes. According to JuniperGroup, 75% of consumers believe that a chatbot wouldn’t suffice for complex complaints and as a result, they’d still prefer to talk to another person. If the chatbot doesn’t have all the answers, people want it to be able to connect them in a few clicks with a trusted person who does.

This desire for human understanding is the main reason that people eschew AI-enabled technology. According to Drift’s report, 43% would prefer to hear a person’s voice rather than the tap of a keyboard.

Others worry that the chatbot will make a mistake (30%), or express concern that they will be locked into using chatbots through Facebook alone (27%). However, 15% of people across all age groups said that these negatives still wouldn’t stop them from using chatbots.

How can chatbots and customer service centres work in harmony?

Despite a general feeling of positivity towards AI-enabled technology, customers aren’t – and may never be – ready for chatbots to eclipse the emotional human connection that comes with traditional customer service centre hotlines. And yet ContactBabel, the customer-service centres expert, predicts that 45,700 jobs will disappear from the sector between now and 2021.

As the percentage of interactions handled by people drops, the importance of the remaining interactions rises. Previously, the deployment of AI has been purely focused on reducing human support. Now it has the added dimension of augmenting the human agent, so organisations are increasing their efforts to train and educate their employees to better engage.

Founded in 2017, start-up Observe.AI aims to develop an AI system that creates bearable call centre experiences, bridging the gap between AI-enabled chatbots and people. The company’s first product is an AI that assists call centre workers by automating a range of tasks, from auto-completing forms for customers, to guiding them on next steps in-call and helping find information quickly.

Integrated systems like these work best when they comprise chatbots, call centres and cloud service centres to forge an on-demand customer experience. Ujet has a solution in place that allows for real-time monitoring of agent activity, intelligent call routine logic and the ability for supervisors to problem solve before issues arise, which is smart business intelligence. Personalisation is also crucial as companies are becoming more tightly focused and specialised on particular market segments and customer needs.

With Ujet, customers contact a company’s call centre, schedule an agent callback or launch a chat session directly from the website or app. They can use smartphones to share visuals that help agents better understand their issues, and experience quicker service because agents already have key details about them, and their potential needs, from the start of a call or chat.

There are cut-and-paste circumstances in which a chatbot is by far the most efficient solution. When a company expands into new geographical areas, for example, chatbots can remove the need for interpreters and communications experts as they can do this on demand – and quickly pick up customer habits along the way.

Customers will to some degree always value human interaction over complete automation, and the two should be seen as complementary rather than competitors in the drive to improve customer experience. The reality is that our basic human values don’t evolve as quickly as technology – and nor do they need to.

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