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Website Chatbots: A Love-Hate Situation

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Chatbots may be rising to fame, but are they effective or just annoying?

Just two years ago, only two percent of customer service departments were using chatbots. By the year 2020, Gartner forecasts that over 25 percent of customer interactions will be handled without a human. Even more jarring, it is also predicted that the average person will have more conversations with chatbots than their spouses. Crazy, right?

What exactly is this spouse-replacing mainstay you may ask?

A chatbot is more or less a virtual assistant that is programmed to simulate human conversation over the internet. They are commonly designed to streamline processes and alleviate the burden of routine tasks, such as repetitive customer inquiries. This is amazing for businesses, but the thing is, customers don’t view things like customer service as a routine task.

This is not to say that chatbots are destined to squash customer service as we know it, but by and large, the majority of users still prefer to get help from an actual human. As a matter of fact, 59 percent of US consumers would prefer the assistance of a person over that of a chatbot.

But, are chatbots all bad? The answer is no. There are definite reasons for their continued rise to fame, but there seems to be a good balance of pros and cons.  Here is a rundown.

Pros of chatbots

1.  Accessible 24-7

Almost everyone has found themselves in need of some sort of customer assistance after business hours. In those moments, it’s hard to understand how anyone’s need for sleep could trump whatever your burning question is at that time. Unlike living, breathing humans, however, chatbots don’t need sleep. Because, well, they’re robots. They work through holidays and they never require a break. This provides consumers with around the clock on-demand assistance when needed.

2.  Reduced labor costs

From a business perspective, this is one of the biggest perks of using chatbots. Companies spend $1.3 trillion on customer service calls each year. Chatbots, however, can help those companies reduce a big chunk of that by speeding up response times, reducing the number of customer service agents needed, freeing up time for more hands-on work, and answering up to 80% of routine questions.

3.  Analytics

Because Chatbots have significant amounts of processing competencies, they are able to unwaveringly capture and report on valuable data, trends, and metrics. This allows for real-time insight into what your users are asking for, as well as uncover areas in need of improvement. Based on this information, businesses can adjust their processes accordingly, and promptly.

4.  Multiple customer capabilities

Nobody is exempt from annoying, drawn-out hold times. As a matter of fact, we spend about 13 hours of every year waiting on hold for customer service. This is because humans have a limit to the number of customers that they can help at once. Unlike people, who can only correspond with one person at a time, chatbots can have conversations with thousands of people at once. This is a major benefit of using chatbots because no matter how many people are in need of assistance, each one is attended to and everyone’s problem can theoretically be resolved.

Cons of chatbots

1.  Limited responses

Although some chatbots have the ability to learn, most still operate on fixed programs. Because of this, these machines can literally get stuck if an unsaved inquiry is presented. When customers are met with a chatbot that is unable to support their needs, they generally find themselves frustrated and dissatisfied, which does not bode well for the overall customer experience.

2.  Potentially expensive

Complex chatbots, like the kind that uses AI to learn and address multiple types of customer inquiries, can cost a lot more than the ones that operate on fixed programs. Unfortunately, those that operate on fixed programs, while cost-efficient, can really frustrate users with their limitations. And since complex chatbots can cost thousands more than the entry-level versions, the cost-saving benefit becomes less of a benefit.

3.  Frustrating

This may be the biggest disadvantage of chatbots. People get frustrated with them for various reasons. First, users get annoyed if chatbots don’t offer a clear path to a resolution within at least five minutes. Second, people get peeved when chatbots don’t understand what they’re looking for, and many don’t even trust that the answers that chatbots provide are correct. Users are also concerned with issues like privacy, personal data security, and the overall impersonal nature of chatbots.

4.  Incapable of being totally accurate

Believe it or not, chatbots max out at about 85 percent efficiency. That’s not great, and when customers feel like they’ve hit a wall with automated responses, they’ll bail on your company and tell others that your brand is impersonal and cold.

In short, the popularity of chatbots is increasing, yes, but they often walk the line between being helpful and being just plain frustrating and distracting. For businesses that don’t want to risk their reputation by incorporating chatbots into the user experience just yet, robust content can be the superhero that saves the day. Through customer surveys, researching user intent, and examining relevant long-tail keywords, companies can provide their users with intuitive site navigation and easy access to the information that they’re seeking.

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