The demand for customer service via instant messenger has recently reached new heights; since the revelation that messaging apps are more popular than social networking sites, companies have been scrambling to find a way to use instant message to their marketing advantage.
The result? Businesses are investing in more forms of live chat – from those manned by humans, to 24/7 automated chatbots.
What are chatbots?
Chatbots are a piece of automated computer software; they are programmed to mimic human conversation through a chat interface.
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) develops, more advanced forms of chatbots are being released. AI chatbots can utilise machine learning to convincingly replicate human conversation, and consequently improve the user experience.
For the most part, though, businesses are still using simpler chatbot software for customer service and marketing. In these instances, chatbots work on a rule-based system – they look out for trigger keywords and provide what is deemed to be the most relevant response. For example, if a user mentions a particular product and the word ‘stock’ the chatbot might reply with a stock update for the specified product.
Why the popularity?
In our world of convenience, user patience grows continually thin. We already know that mobile speed is an absolute must-have for successful websites and is even used as a ranking factor by Google.
Thus, it naturally follows that consumers don’t want to waste their time on hold when making a phone call or waiting for a response via email. Instant messaging provides a space where customers can submit a query and instantly receive a response. This service has business and marketing benefits too – quicker response time means the chance of your prospect going elsewhere before converting is greatly reduced.
The pros and cons: human live chat v chatbots
As with anything, there are pros and cons to both chatbots and live chat systems manned by human assistants. Here we weigh up the different considerations for both options:
One of the most obvious benefits of chatbots is their availability. No matter what time of day or night, a chatbot can be active and open for queries – this is a pretty appealing prospect when the digital realm demands that information be readily available at all times.
Chatbots may be able to accept customer enquiries 24 hours a day, but one thing they can’t do is handle niche or difficult questions. The nature of a chatbots programming means that if a user asks a question which doesn’t correspond to a specific query or keyword, it won’t be able to help.
A live chat assistant can be far more responsive to customer’s needs, meaning a more tailored customer service experience for the user.
Creating a chatbot is significantly cheaper than employing a team of live chat assistants. While having a single live chat operator may be effective for very small companies, in most instances one person isn’t capable of handling multiple enquiries at once – the upshot of this is delayed response time, which defeats the purpose of live chat in the first place.
A chatbot can respond instantly to a large pool of enquiries at any given time, meaning no customer is left frustrated.
Speaking of frustrations, chatbots aren’t without their own enraging issues. As touched upon before, chatbots can only respond to queries they’ve been specifically programmed to understand. They can even be tripped up by spelling errors and typos.
Comparatively, a human assistant would not struggle with a more complex query or typo. Having a real person responding over live chat means they can also provide the additional service of salesperson, adding to the marketing benefits of live chat.
A chatbot can – in a limited function – recommend products based on what they think a user is searching for, but it’ll never be as persuasive or convincing as a personal recommendation from an actual person.
When it really comes down to it, on a one-on-one basis a chatbot could never beat the customer service provided by an actual human being. However, on a larger scale, the waters become more muddied. What works best for your company will depend on your particular business and the size of your customer base.
Many organisations take the middle ground, using chatbots in the first instance, with a small team of human chat assistants ready to take over when things get more complex.
With the current speed of AI advancements, we’re certain that most of these chatbot flaws will soon be a thing of the past – but for now, best not to hand everything over to the bots just yet.