This question kicked off a healthy round of debate at Inbound.org last week. If you’re thinking of deploying a chatbot in the near future, then you’ll want to listen up for the answer.
For some, a chatbot is little more than a textual version of those painful phone trees we climb when calling the cable company. For others, chatbots are the vanguard of artificial intelligence—the promising sign of a future in which we only talk to robots.
As with most things in life, the answer is found somewhere in the middle.
After poking around on the web a bit and reflecting on personal experience, I’ve discovered that whether a customer appreciates a chatbot—or not—depends on these three factors:
1. What is your chatbot trying to accomplish?
Probably the most fundamental question a business should ask before developing a chatbot is what they expect to accomplish. Do they want it to operate like a text version of a phone tree? Or do they want it to mimic a living, breathing human being?
If you're looking for the latter, then you're almost certain to disappoint whoever engages with the bot. The technology simply isn't there yet.
But wait: that doesn’t mean chatbots have to be dumb. With a touch of AI and a thoughtfully mapped out customer response process, your chatbot can quite competently help users navigate your knowledge base.
For more complex situations when the bot finds itself in over its digital head, it can just as easily hand that customer off to one of your representatives or your customer support forum.
2. Is Your Chatbot Chatty Enough?
According to Nidhriti Bhowmik of Chatbots Magazine, some of the most biting complaints against chatbots are that they're either too stupid or too robotic. Good thing chatbots don’t have egos (yet).
In the same way you might avoid speaking to an awkward co-worker, people avoid chatbots who simply can’t hang in a conversation.
In other words, quality matters. A poorly designed chatbot with a small range of canned responses is certainly bound to frustrate your customers more than it helps them.
3. Is Your Chatbot Too Chatty?
On the other end of the spectrum, however, you have chatbots who don’t know when to button it. CNN discovered this during a six-month experiment with their own chatbot technology.
According to Alex Wellen, CNN's Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer, adding a bot to messaging apps like Facebook Messenger is more intimate than following a brand on Twitter.
“[T]hey are putting CNN right alongside the people that matter to them most — the family, friends, and colleagues they message each day — and we want to earn that trust. We want the conversation with CNN to feel personal and non-intrusive... In other words, the chatbot can’t be too chatty.”
That’s right. Personal, yet non-intrusive.
Chatbots must be designed in such a way that they don't overstep their relational bounds. Give your Digital Doris too much free reign, and she'll drive people away…kind of like that aunt that keeps asking when you’re going to have kids. Baking cookies is great, relentless inquisition is not.
Of course, there's so much more we could say about chatbots. Perhaps the key takeaway is this: people expect from chatbots what they'd expect from any good customer service representative—a clear ability to do their job and a decent set of interpersonal skills.
In other words, demand from your bot what you'd expect from any of your customer service agents, and you just might build a bot people will actually like.