Live Chat: Can Chatbots Replace Humans?

According to Chatbots Magazine: “A chatbot is a robotic software that is powered by rules, interacting with your customers via a chat interface on your website.”

There’s been a lot of excitement about chatbots and Artificial Intelligence… some of us picture a world where most human tasks will be automated, with bots being able to do our jobs better and quicker than we ever could. While there’s no denying this possibility, what we’re exploring with this article is this: Does this apply to customer service and sales, where a key component is the interpersonal connection between the service representative and the customer? Are chatbots able to build rapport and maintain relationships with customers? Essentially, are robots able to replicate human interaction and (re)produce a human relationship?

Chatbots are not a new phenomenon. Starting with ELIZA in 1966, chatbots have constantly been evolving and our society has many hopes and dreams about their potential. What makes a person human and can that be incorporated within a bot? Will we ever come to a point where people won’t be able to tell whether they’re talking to a bot or person? All of this is part of a much bigger conversation. What we’re focusing on here today is sales and customer service. Specifically, can chatbots successfully replace human agents in a live chat program?

A chatbot has the capacity to handle unlimited chats simultaneously, rapidly scan through data and locate the best response within seconds. It doesn’t require human supervision and this could save substantial labour costs. Quite exciting it seems…

But do their limitations outweigh their strengths?

As a machine powered by rules, there are limitations to what chatbots can respond to and how they do so. For instance, a question with spelling mistakes, typos, grammatical or syntax errors could be incomprehensible to the average chatbot and it would be unable to provide a response, whereas a human live chat agent would have the ability to infer and interpret what the other person is trying to communicate. There’s a crucial limitation in terms of contextual inference and comprehension where chatbots cannot compare to human agents.

Another limitation of chatbots is their inability to respond and interact beyond what they’re programmed to. A key aspect of sales is persuasion. Picture this: You’re running a chat program on an eCommerce site. While a human live chat agent would be able to read the cues and undertones of a conversation and direct or influence a visitor towards the checkout, a bot will be unable to react according to the flow of the conversation and go beyond its pre-programmed code to convince the customer to complete their checkout. What is sales without interpersonal reaction and persuasion? After all, are “people skills” not called “people” skills for a reason?

Can Artificial Intelligence accommodate Emotional Intelligence?

According to a recent Accenture study, 81% of consumers prefer dealing with human beings for customer service to solve issues and get advice.

 

A key to customer service is the ability to give customers personalised responses. Live chat agents can provide this human touch – having empathy by nature of being human, live chat agents are able to think together with the customer and provide a personalised experience. Chatbots on the other hand are unable to comprehend the complexity and depth of human emotion. This means they are unable to read between the lines, and lack intuition and the ability to adapt and react appropriately.

Have you ever spoken to a bot and received an awkward or unnatural response, completely unrelated to what your question was?! Take one of the most popular chatbots today, Apple’s Siri. How many times have you asked it a simple question only to be told “I’m not sure I understand.” People get frustrated by a bot’s inability to be flexible and answer accurately. People also feel frustrated and even betrayed when they find out they’ve been talking to a bot disguised as another human. It this fundamental human connection which is irreplaceable.

Take another example, when you phone a customer service line, would you rather have a person answer the phone or receive an automated message, follow multiple steps of pressing various numbers, listen to music or an advertisement while on hold, and then finally have a human pick up the phone? Again, in this case, the end goal is getting to communicate with a human!

The key to good customer service and sales is precisely this human connection and personal touch that chatbots are unable to replicate. An existing disadvantage of online businesses is that they lack the personal touch and individual attention to each visitor. This is required when trying to connect with your potential customers and strengthening relationships with existing ones. A genuine person-to-person interaction is key to building customer loyalty, retention, and referrals. This is where live chat comes in.

 

Chatbots are just not ready to replace humans yet

Take the case of Facebook’s virtual assistant “M” which launched in August 2015 and terminated recently on 19 Jan 2018. It was only ever accessible to 10,000 people in California and although Facebook initially suggested that M would reach more users over time, it never did. They shut it down early this year, calling it a human-powered AI experiment.

In their attempt to create the perfect A.I. product, Facebook had a dedicated team of researchers training and supervising M 24/7, but M never surpassed 30% automation. When M didn’t know an answer, a human would take over and respond as if it was just a bot at the other end. The manpower required to run and optimise M ended up increasing its operating costs so much that Facebook had to kill it. This is another example that demonstrates the current limitations of AI.

In conclusion, chatbots are not replacing human live chat agents anytime soon… at least not if you want your live chat program to provide quality customer service and deliver qualified leads for your business. Get in touch now with the experts at Greechat to discuss how we can implement a lead generating live chat program for your website… powered by humans, for humans!

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