Chatbots: Less friend, more foe

Instead of providing much needed assistance in the digital era, chatbots have turned into the “enemy”, with many people having to “battle” them to obtain answers or solutions. — Isometric elements vector created by macrovector -

As more services become automated, companies are doing away with human interactions in favour of chatbots for customer service and support, a move that is not going down well with consumers.

In a survey of 3,000 customers in the United Kingdom and United States, 53% of respondents found chatbots to be ineffective or only somewhat effective.

The survey, published on the website The Chat Shop, also showed that 59% of respondents complained about having to repeat the same information to a human agent after getting past a chatbot.

They also cited “getting stuck and not knowing what to do next” as a major irritation, with 22% adding that chatbots are “not intelligent enough”.

A report released last year by InformationWeek stated that most chatbots only communicate in English, making it a challenge for non-native speakers to comprehend chatbots.

The report recommended that companies address such fundamental issues, possibly by introducing a real-time translation feature.

Heather Shoemaker, CEO and co-founder of multilingual customer support tool provider, Language I/O, explained that clients tend to create chatbots that provide limited interaction.

“Ask them what they’re searching for and then find a support article that matches that text.

“The second level is where they need to go beyond this very static, rigid chatbot strategy and incorporate some natural language processing (NLP),” she told InformationWeek.

User interactions with chatbots may also contain spelling errors or local slang, which has to be “normalised” when programming the chatbot.

“If the source content is messy to begin with, you can’t really blame the translation engine for giving you a messy translation that’s nonsensical,” she said.

Closer to home, the “Redefining Human And Automated Engagement – How APAC Consumers Have Impacted The CX Agenda” study, commissioned by Infobip, found that human support – via phone or live chat – was the top two preferred touch points across all support scenarios for users in Malaysia, China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Forrester Consulting, which carried out the research, polled 1,210 people across Asia Pacific about their interactions with brands for purchases or customer service in the past six months.

The study showed that Malaysians preferred to communicate with human agents through live chat and social media (each at 45%) or the phone (43%).

The 116 consumers involved in the study in Malaysia rated their customer service experience as moderate with a score of 3.8, below the Asia Pacific average of 3.9.

Neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Thailand registered higher scores, 4.1 and 4.2, respectively.

The study also identified four distinct personas among Malaysian consumers, with the majority, or 41%, surveyed falling within the “affluent-hybrid shoppers” category, described as users comfortable with switching between digital and human touch points.

The other three are “reserved high touch seekers” who prefer touch points with human agents (29%); “neutral” who are reluctant to switch communication across touch points (20%); and “low-touch digital natives” who are younger consumers who lean towards digital touch points (10%).

Guray Ozturk, Infobip Malaysia’s business development director, said it’s essential that companies understand their audience before investing resources into either an automated or customer service support team.

“Although WhatsApp is the most used social media platform – it’s used by 93.2% of Malaysians – our white paper released last year found that only 55% of companies use WhatsApp Business to manage customer support, while 46% of respondents cited that there is not enough digital support by companies to effectively utilise available digital platforms,” Ozturk claimed.

The study found that there is a need for both digital touch points and human agent engagement to deliver a hybrid customer service experience to users.

Barriers to adoption include a lack of resources, financial constraints, and an unfavourable economic climate.

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