Chatbots VS. Live Agents
Published: February 21, 2022
Chatbots can have their place — but are they being used the right way?
If there’s one thing that the pandemic taught us, it’s that people like interactions with other people.
Those that were forced into lockdown and quarantine situations who weren’t able to work from home and actually communicate with people on the outside world on a regular basis struggled because they missed that one element that really keeps us sane and that’s human interaction.
The same can be said about the customer experience and using chatbots and other automations when it comes to customer support.You cannot give your customers an exceptional experience by throwing chatbots and artificial intelligence at them to replace a live person when they have a serious or more complex issue. They want that human touch to feel reassurance…
Sure, they seemed like a great idea in the beginning as a way to streamline the customer experience and cut costs —
— but was it really just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
I remember there were some support directors that I talked to before the pandemic. They were rubbing their hands together, thinking that if they used a chatbot to take care of the customer support needs, then they could save money by replacing live agents. This would make them look like a hero to the suits upstairs by cutting the budget.
So they bought these inexpensive “off-the-shelf” chatbots with very few customization options and put them out there for their customers. It was, of course, an utter fiasco. The chatbots ended up consuming more of the customer’s time which only heightened their frustration. By the time they got to the live agent, every molehill had become a mountain.
Since the pandemic, we’re seeing how chatbots are on a steady decline. Yet there are a lot of companies that are still holding on to them- trying desperately to make them work. And they can work — if used properly. They can have their place certainly when used to augment, not replace.
But if you’re using chatbots as the main foundation for your customer support or thinking about it —you would want to keep reading because it might not be the chatbot itself but what the chatbot represents that could end up driving your customers away.
What Are Chatbots For?
Before we get any deeper, let’s take a quick look at what the actual function of the chatbot is.
Customer service chatbots are supposed to be designed to decrease talk time and provide faster solutions. Wonderful, so far so good. Now, there are two ways in which a support department can use a chatbot.
One is to simply collect a few bits of vital information prior to the interaction with the support agent. This is a great idea — I mean, they’re going to have to give their information anyway, right? So, the chatbot collects the information then it can easily and quickly access the customer’s details and history as soon as the live agent connects. Great, this has saved time. Especially when you have a live chat agent working 3 or 4 chats at a time.
So, If used only to gather low level information to streamline the process as the transfer to the agent is happening — then yes, this is a proper use of a chatbot.
The other way chatbots are being used is not. Instead of augmenting, the goal is to replace the support interaction altogether. So basically when the customer hops on a chat, instead of speaking to a human, they’re actually speaking to a computer program — and they even give the program a name! Then they take that even a step further and put a little message at the bottom that the chatbot is actually typing to give you the look and feel that you’re speaking to a human. (Did they really think anybody fell for that?)
When used in a way to try and replace or discourage a human support interaction — these chatbots only serve as a blockade between you and your customers.
Live Chat Is King
Now, statistically speaking out of all the support channels used by support departments, live chat is by far a favorite among customers to report and have their issues fixed. In fact 52% of US customers and 49% of UK-based customers prefer live chats with customer support over other communication channels.
Sadly, only about 9% of companies worldwide actually use live chat as an option. This is on the rise in 2022 though. Since companies now recognize that today’s customers prefer to send a Facebook message or tweet than to have to search through your website for the support channels.
If your support department already offers live chat and you’re using chatbots or thinking about using them, you may want to think again about how you’re using them. Ask yourself: Are they actually helping the customer? Does the customer even like the chatbot?
The customer has put forth their money. This is what you wanted from the beginning. Obviously, customers are revenue. You want that revenue and you want to keep that revenue coming. In order to do so, to keep the customers happy, you have to let them have a voice. It’s really no secret that one of the biggest issues when it comes to customer support or customer service is the gap in communication and understanding. The goal then is to close that gap, and as quickly as possible.
Do Chatbots Really Close That Gap Or Do They Just Make It Wider?
Let me ask you this: Would you replace your sales team with chatbots and complete automation?
Sure, you might have some sort of automation for lead generation or capturing potential customers’ details. But when it comes down to making the sale — to actually connecting with the potential customer, no artificial intelligence is going to be able to read their reactions, their tone of voice, or observe how they shift themselves when they are uncomfortable. And then immediately focus on what their pain points are. Everyone knows no matter what, human interaction is superior here.
Sometimes the sales call has to get creative — just like with finances. Would you trust AI enough to handle all of your finances for you?
Probably not. Then I have to ask you why would you decide after making that sale and getting that credit card information that all of a sudden a chat bot is able to take care of all of their needs and give them an excellent experience? Are the customers ready for it? Do they WANT it? Have a look at what Meta is experiencing right now…
Our Customers Are Not Robots
— they are humans with human emotions and should be treated as such. Now, it would be great if it were all like the Jetsons where you push a button to get your meal and it comes out exactly how you want it. Also you could speak to a robot and it could intelligently answer you — but that level of AI is quite a ways off- at least I hope it is.
I have been reading about this predictive AI that will be able to, based on data, tell us what the customer will want or ask before they want it or ask it – now this may be super cool but again I’ll ask- are your customers ready for it? Do they want it?
When a customer has an issue, there is nothing in the world that beats a live human on the other end of the chat. The study published in Forbes pre-pandemic showed that nearly 50 percent of U.K. respondents and around 60 percent of U.S. respondents said they’d prefer a live person over a chatbot.
The main issue is chatbots live in a limited space; they have limited data available to them. Basically, a chatbot can get confused. Especially if they’re trying to pick out keywords from the cat. Different people use different terms to call things. For instance, when we go to the carnival, some like to get a Funnel Cake. Others an Elephant ear. However, they are the same thing. If the chatbot isn’t programmed to use alternate keywords, it can only lead to more frustration. Compared to a live chat operator who can take the entire conversation and decipher what the customer means.
Also, because of these limits, chatbots can plunge the customer into an infinite loop. They start running around in circles and your chatbot just keeps coming back to the beginning. “I’m sorry I didn’t get that. Can you repeat it?”, “I’m sorry I don’t understand. Please try another option…” and they’ve exhausted all their options.
This is just about the time when they start shaking that soda bottle and the customer is just getting more and more upset, more and more angry, more and more ready to just click over to your competitor. Worse yet, click over to their credit card and cancel their subscription.
Chatbots Are Not New — At Least The Idea Isn’t
If we think back, it’s not a particularly new technology. Remember how much IVR’s infuriated people? (to speak to a live agent press 0 —or—stay on the line.”) So, I don’t understand why they decided to take that to the next level. It just seems some companies have lost touch with what their customers actually want…
And if it all comes down to trying to save money, what I always keep saying is if you’re going to cut corners in your customer experience you are on the way to failure.
Now, it’s simply OK if somebody comes into your live chat and they want to ask a question or two, perhaps the live agent can direct them to a self-service portal. This is a great use for chatbots. There, they can enter their issue or question and see if there is an article that will help them with their resolution for simple things. This is especially helpful for routine walkthroughs that the customer may need to refer back to.
However, when the customer has a complex issue that requires critical thinking, sending them into this infinite chatbot loop is useless. After six or seven times of trying to go through all the menu options, they would give up and request a live agent. Then putting them on hold after they’ve already spent all this time in your chat box chatbot loop will only show the customer that their time isn’t valued.
Keep With the Trends — Or Lose Customers
The biggest trends these days in the customer experience are empathy and speed. You want to get your customer connected with a caring individual who can solve their problem as fast as possible. That’s giving a great customer experience…
…but there are those out there that just shrug it off and say that it’s not cost effective.
And I’m here to tell you that losing customers is not cost effective. Because there is nothing worse in the world than having a customer feel unappreciated, unimportant, and frustrated. What’s more, having them know they feel that way because it’s cost effective.
Not only that, losing customers who go away frustrated, who go away unhappy is definitely not cost effective because the first place they’re going to go to vent their frustrations is right to social media. Take a look at your own behaviors especially when you’re frustrated — you want to vent, you want to tell somebody — you have to get it out. Customers are no different.
But the point is it’s not so much the chatbot itself — but its the level of care the chatbot represents to your customer. On your end it may seem faster, more efficient and save money — but is the customer ready for that? Are they accepting? Do they actually think it’s faster?
Chatbots Represent You?
You don’t want to throw your customers that you spent a lot of money acquiring out into the cold abyss and detach yourselves and put a gap between you and them. Even Microsoft had seen the change since as far back as 2019 when they discovered that chatbots were only about 28% effective. That’s a fall from an overall 36% effectiveness in previous years.
So if you have salespeople working the front lines to acquire those customers, to convince them to give you their money for your product or service, why then would you have a chatbot represent your company and your brand for the rest of the customer journey? They’re going to wonder what happened to that special treatment they got in the beginning — that personal touch that made them sign up in the first place.
Go the extra mile and show your customers that you care. Give them a live individual to speak with. There are ways for it to be cost effective.
Outsourcing Live Chat Operators VS. Chatbots
The minimal cost of having live humans with empathy, understanding, and knowledge that can think outside of the box will be worth their weight in gold. Especially when you see your customer retention rate skyrockets. We’re in an age now where more and more people want instant resolutions. Everything comes in an instant. Faster, better, and quicker. A chatbot will do nothing but bring everything to a screeching halt.
Review the data then do an experiment. Put a live chat operator on there versus a chatbot and see who gets the better feedback from your customers. It’s almost 100% guaranteed that you’re going to get better feedback when you have a knowledgeable live agent taking that chat. An agent who can instinctively solve complex issues quicker by engaging in conversation with the customer. You can’t get a true conversation from a chatbot.
Outsourcing is an amazing way to get live knowledgeable agents on your chat lines at an affordable rate. But it’s not just about the cost savings. I always tell those interested in finding out more that if you’re looking to outsource only because you want to save money, then you’re truly missing the mark.
At Telework PH, our top-notch recruitment will source and test candidates that fit your requirements and company culture. We don’t just send over anyone. We find dedicated, career minded agents who have the experience, speak excellent English, and have a passion for giving exceptional customer service. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that you can’t go wrong by taking advantage of that offer.
Ready to find out more? Just book a free, no obligation call here. And of course, feedback is always welcome. I’d love to hear your thoughts on chatbots, good and bad. Let me know your experiences.