Today’s teens have a new outlet for all their awkward questions: Planned Parenthood has created a chatbot, an adorable rectangular character named “Roo,” that provides completely anonymous health and relationship advice. It might seem surprising that a chatbot exists to fill this niche, but then again, chatbots are everywhere these days—from taking your coffee order to telling you if your flight is on time.
And it’s clear why. Not only are chatbots on track to save businesses $11.5 billion by 2023, but they free up customer service agents from having to answer repetitive questions, allowing agents to devote their full, undivided attention to customers with complex problems. This is more important than ever in light of recent research that shows users can tell—and get frustrated—when a customer service agent is balancing multiple conversations at once.
Despite these benefits, when given a choice, consumers overwhelmingly opt to talk to a human agent. The question customer service teams have to face is: How do you take advantage of customer service automation while providing your customers with a human experience?
TechRepublic reports that, when given the option, more than half of consumers would rather take their customer service issues to a human agent rather than a bot. However, they’re not closed off to the idea. Over 70 percent are open to receiving help from a chatbot, though 51 percent would prefer to limit their interactions with bots to simple issues. When it comes to straightforward problems, users are willing to engage with chatbots.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, customers are more eager to use chatbots if there’s a noticeable difference in speed or efficiency. Fifty-four percent of consumers said they didn’t care whether they received customer service from a human or a bot, as long as the interaction was fast. Given that the most impatient generation, Gen Z, is about to become 40 percent of American consumers, ensuring that customers are able to resolve issues quickly should be a top priority for customer service teams.
Even though consumers are warming up to customer service automation, there are some areas where good old-fashioned human service can’t be beat. One is politeness—62 percent of respondents cited in the TechRepublic article think humans are more polite than bots (though interestingly, people are increasingly saying “thank you” to chatbots). Another area is privacy. People are wary of sharing their personal data with chatbots, perhaps out of concern that their information is more vulnerable over this channel. According to research by analyst agency CGS, 68 percent of consumers would not trust their personal data with a chatbot. Chatbots have their uses, but humans are still very much essential for maintaining trust.
Given what we know about how people prefer to interact with customer service, a blended approach is most effective. Both chatbots and human agents have roles to play. When implementing a blended strategy, it’s important to get your priorities straight from the beginning. Chris Venus, our SVP of Professional Services and Enablement, puts it this way: “What is your customer trying to do and how can you make it easier for them to do that?”
Chatbots fulfil customers’ need for speed. They’re ideal for simple inquiries—say, tracking an online order or confirming a travel itinerary. A good strategy to use when implementing customer service automation is to tackle high-impact, low-effort areas first. What kinds of straightforward questions do your customers always want to know the answers to? Thoughtfully designed chatbots can quickly manage customers’ most pressing concerns, freeing agents from having to handle the same simple requests over and over again.
But how you present your bot matters. Always be upfront with your customers about when they’re conversing with a bot and when they’re messaging with an agent. Unless you’re trying to pass the Turing test, never try to disguise a bot as a real human being—it’s only fair to inform your users about the nature of the interaction they’re having.
That’s not to say your bot can’t have personality. Some of the most successful ones do. When Planned Parenthood built Roo, they gave it a friendly, casual tone and animated facial expressions designed to delight their teenage audience. (Case in point: If you take too long to ask a question, Roo begins to fall asleep). It’s been a hit with young people as well as their parents.
Well-implemented chatbots empower agents to do what they do best: Be human. When it comes to more complex issues, they can step in with empathy and guidance. Chatbots can also be on hand to process the kinds of sensitive personal information that your customers might feel uncomfortable confiding to a chatbot.
Customer service automation is a fantastic resource for customer service teams, but humans are still a necessary part of the equation. Designing your service experience with your customers’ needs in mind is essential. Bots tend to be most effective when they’re implemented to handle simple, frequent requests—and hand off more complex issues to human agents. A chatbot might be able to help order your morning coffee, but it’s still no substitute for the trust and empathy a real human connection provides.