Time To Ditch The Chatbots?

It isn't just you and it isn't just me. Nearly half of Brits find chatbots "annoying," and three in four find them impersonal.

Nevertheless, four in five companies are either already using the technology or plan to by 2020,  writes this morning.

The main finding of the report by Acquia is that chatbots can work and be useful, but they need to be more integrated in the general customer experience journey, rather than used in isolation. Proof that they might be acceptable is that while we find them annoying, only one in five believe they should be ditched altogether.

The research looked at both automated chatbots and those operated by staff. Automated chatbots, for me, just need to be ditched. They are no better than the search function on a website. Why would you bother typing in questions to a chatbot, under the assumption there is a person or clever piece of tech behind it, just to get a bunch of links the search button could have offered?

Now, there are occasional good use examples. I once saw a flight-booking demonstration where an automated system asked all the right questions and tried to get an upgrade in all the right places. It was a useful way to buy a ticket in Facebook Messenger, so it looked great, I still couldn't help but think all those questions could have been asked in an app in the form of tick boxes or yes/no options. 

The live-person chatbots, for me at least, have really been a series of hits and misses. Usually when I have hit to chat the service has not been available or was too busy to work.

Quite often I have been on a very specific part of a website -- say, a mortgage enquiry page, and then clicked through on the chatbot icon, as prompted by the site. After selecting the "mortgage enquiry" from the selection of topics I would like to discuss, a curt message comes back saying that can't be discussed with a live chat person. OK -- so why offer the option only to later say it's not an option? 

To be fair, they can work. A live chatbot staffed by a person can be helpful in answering a query but I have to say as often as not it has simply left me being told to email or call the main brand. If you want to hear pumped-out information, they are fine, but if you want someone at the other end to listen and act on a query, they're often not so helpful.

It's a little like a triage system for incoming enquiries -- if you have something you really need to discuss, you'll just be advised to call a specific department. Note  that you a're calling them -- the assistant doesn't offer reassurance that the specific team will call you, so there's no need to call, wait, then punch in a bunch of option numbers before a person appears on the other end of the line.

Chatbots promise much but deliver very little. Brands need to look at this research today and find why half of the consumers find the tech they're rolling out to deal with them is just plain 'annoying'. If it just offers a bunch of search links, ditch it. If we're talking live chat, and the person on the other end of the chat doesn't have the ability to answer a query, allow them to transfer it to someone who can.

Without applying some common sense measures, chatbots are a hindrance -- another layer before someone can get a task done elsewhere. The fact that they are on the verge of being a billion-dollar industry and four in five CMOs have or will roll them out suggests it is time to hit pause and reconsider.

If the tech truly helps, great. If it doesn't, be aware that it will just frustrate users, no matter how "on trend" a chatbot strategy may have seemed when it was given the green light. 

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