With all of this constant buzz around new technology, we can quickly let the hype take control. As I’ve said a few times in the past, when we’re constantly fed promises from the power of new tech, we need to take a step back and truly analyze the reality. This rings particularly true for chatbots, and I have taken quite the stance on them in the past; declaring a new wave of customer service.

However, with live chat solutions and chatbots existing for quite some time now, and quite widespread implementation, I wanted to take a step back and attempt to truly understand: are they even being used? With all this capital being invested not only into using chatbots, but further developing them, its always good to have a bit of a reality check.

By looking through data put from NewVoiceMedia just last year, we can hopefully gain a better understanding of reality. Not so much how many times have people interacted with chatbots, that isn’t as important just yet. But rather, how do customers and clients truly feel about chatbots?

The Current Landscape of Chatbots

We’re pushing these tools as being the next best thing in providing a quick and simple customer experience, but at the end of the day, the customer is the one who determines if the experience was good or not. That’s what tells us if the solutions are even worth using.

On one hand, chatbots seem to be a perfect solution for contact centers: you get to maximize the ability to serve low-level concerns more quickly and efficiently, while also optimizing your live agents to better focus on more complex inquiries.

And of course, just like everything else in life that seems so simple, it doesn’t quite work out that way. The real question that we need to be asking is where can we use chatbots, but rather, where and how will people use chatbots? In reality, we can even go a step further back from that, and ask if anyone is even going to bother using a chatbot from the beginning.

Despite getting so caught up in the conversation of what chatbots can do, and how much they can help improve a contact center and the customer experience, we didn’t stop to think practically. At the end of the day, like I always say about the user experience of an application: if the experience is bad, people just aren’t going to use it.

This carries over to chatbots directly, as well. If the chatbot is clunky, unresponsive, unaware of what’s going on, or flat out just doesn’t even understand what the user is asking of it, they’re just not going to use it. A lot of us will default to assuming that the technology in place is a roadblock, something that keeps us away from a live human: where the real support is.

I think this is a crucial issue with chatbots, and it’s why many of us have truly grown to hate IVR systems. No one wants to feel like they are being ignored, or pushed to the side, and unfortunately, that is what a lot of these tools to. Just like in the vast majority of industries and organizations, the human element is far too often removed from the equation.

We think of service by the numbers, maximizing the number of agents, or the number of calls answered in an hour or optimizing first call resolution; and while this can be one great way to understand how the center is performing, it doesn’t get to the why.

A Closer Look at the Results

What sticks out to me is just how striking the results of the report are: if we want to be blunt, people seem to not want to use chatbots. Unfortunately, the results are what they are, and indicate an issue — but what is more important is how organizations will react to this report.

At the end of the day, many would want to make a very quick reaction and abandon chatbots to reinvest in proven solutions. This makes sense, I can’t deny that. But sometimes it might be better to play with the hand we’re dealt, and in the case of chatbots, I think it is important to truly understand why the issues exist.

Once we take a closer look at why users aren’t happy with chatbots, we begin to see that the problem truly can be solvable. Unfortunately, a large number of users seem to not trust chatbots and feel that chatbots don’t fully understand their issue.

This was the number one concern that consumers and end-users had about chatbots, with 65% of participants in the poll responded with this concern specifically.

If chatbots cannot even understand what customers are looking for, they, unfortunately, cannot provide ample service. And whether or not this is true, this seems to be a major roadblock in the minds of these end-users.

Looking a little bit further down the list of concerns, we begin to notice a similar trend: 63% were concerned that chatbots couldn’t handle complex issues, 49% were concerned that chatbots would struggle even with simple issues, and 45% emphasized specifically that chatbots do not provide a truly personal experience.

Chatbots are not human, and customers know that: we can’t hide it. While a smaller percentage, 29% of respondents were “worried that without a human mind, chatbots cannot interpret human nuances like sarcasm,” this continues to highlight the issue — chatbots are not human.

This naturally leads to another very important issue, a whopping 46% of those responding felt that chatbots were being used specifically to keep them away from a live agent. These results indicate that users feel as if chatbots are not so much a stepping stone to getting proper support, but rather a roadblock that is actively keeping them from getting in touch with a human.

Humans Seek Human Interactions

And this isn’t a new issue, at all. This is why most people (myself included) spam zero, or yell “agent” at IVR menus until they finally get to a person. Many of us know what our issue is, we know what we need help with, and we just want to speak to someone to get that help. More steps in the way of us getting to that human interaction feels less like assistance, and more like a nuisance.

That is a major concern to customer service and support in general, and why the user experience is becoming such a massive part of the equation: customers are looking to feel like they are getting support and help they need, they don’t want to be tossed aside and ignored.

When we spend money, we want to know that the provider is there to assist us if things go wrong. There is a whole unseen world of constant collaboration that goes on to make these customer service connections possible, and tools like IVR menus and chatbots are there to help us more effectively provide that level of support consumers demand.

Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of a catch-22: we add new tools to optimize the process, but as new steps are added into the process consumers feel like they are being ignored.

Understanding What Consumers Want

At the end of the day, the goal should be ensuring repeat business with happy customers, thanks to positive interactions between the business and its end-users. Pretty simple stuff. But unfortunately, reality isn’t ever that simple — as I previously explained, as new tools are introduced, there is the opportunity for resistance.

Unfortunately, people don’t like change and are quick to react negatively to it. That’s why we need to hone in on what it is exactly that consumers and end-users want and demand. NewVoiceMedia did aim to provide greater context to the discussion, and did collect some of this information. I think it is equally, if not even more, important to try to understand.

We talk time and time again about going where the customer is, and providing the tools they need to get the support they want where, when and how they want it. But are we truly doing that?

1. How do people want their customer service handled?

  • 75% of those reviewed prefer to have their customer service queries handled by live customer service agents.
  • 13% specifically said that they prefer chatbots
  • 12% specifically said that they prefer “Self-service” options

So, people don’t like to use chatbots. In the conversation of chatbot vs live chat interactions, it seems that the majority of customers just want to talk to a person. People are what truly provide that personalized experience: they understand the nuance of conversation like sarcasm, they can pick up on emotions and verbal queues in tone.

People are more willing to help each other and feel much more cared for with a warm human conversation, as opposed to a cold, lifeless chatbot. Or is it that bad?

2. Have people been using chatbots, even if they don’t prefer them?

  • Despite 75% of those surveyed claiming they prefer live customer service agents, a massive 60% still used a chatbot to communicate with a business in the last 12 months.
  • 32% stated they did not use a chatbot
  • The remaining 8% said they “didn’t know.”

So people are either using chatbots despite not liking them, with a massive 75% of respondents in this report claiming so, or some are even using them without realizing (although admittedly a small group that might choose to avoid them if they knew). On the flip side, 32% might not seem like a lot, but to have 30% of your customers completely ignore a channel could be a bit of a red flag.

3. How willing are people to use chatbots?

  • While the majority of those surveyed said they have used a chatbot, only 48% of those surveyed said that they would be “willing to deal with a chatbot regarding a customer service issue.”
  • While only 48% (less than half) said they would be willing 38% also outright said they would not be willing to use a chatbot at all.
  • The remaining 15% were undecided

Unfortunately, if this report truly is representative of the bigger picture, then the future doesn’t seem to be too promising for chatbots.

But, they do not have to be condemned to fail. They just need to be adapted, like how Facebook grew chatbots with new capabilities, not just more conversations.

The Bottom Line: Looking Forward

At the end of the day, like I say for just about everything, if the user experience is terrible no one will use the application or solution. Chatbots, unfortunately, seem to be suffering here a bit — and I don’t necessarily want to blame it on the bots themselves. Overtime AI capabilities have grown, and when utilized properly, bots can be fairly powerful.

But no one seems to know how or when or why to use chatbots. They see them as a downgrade in service, or a roadblock to a human representative. Truth is, NewVoiceMedia’s report shows that those interviewed aren’t ready for robots to take over the world just yet.

And the lack of humanity and personalization seem to be the largest downfalls. People feel like they are being ignored, pushed to the side, and that a cold, lifeless bot won’t be able to help or even understand them. They want to speak to people, and they want to speak to people quickly. But, as we know, it isn’t always possible, or even necessary at all, to speak to a live human agent.

  • Transparency: Users need to know what bots are for, what they can do, and what they can reliably use them to do. Organizations should do their best to make this known, communicate the usefulness of your bots. This is a unique challenge, but one that can be tackled
  • Humanity and personalization: Consumers feel like bots are cold, lifeless terminators. Unfortunately, we cannot change the expectations of consumers. But what we can also do, beyond being transparent, is truly work to improve bots: this is where AI comes into play.

Therefore, we need to add a level of transparency within chatbots. We need to be completely honest about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. Without realistic expectations, consumers will just end up frustrated.

And communication is key here: chatbots are best used in specific circumstances, and not as catch-all solutions. Once consumers are properly aware of how to properly utilize a chatbot, chances are adoption rates will increase.

And of course, we have to address the reliability of AI. Chatbots without proper AI is nothing more than a simple if: then equation, limiting capabilities by nature. But as our AI capabilities continue to expand and grow, with more advanced Natural Language Processing and Sentiment Analysis, we will see bots hopefully be able to jump that gap from lifeless terminator to helpful buddy.