No bots about it: the technology that will inevitably become the norm in customer care


The use of chatbots in mobile messaging will inevitably ‘usurp’ call centres as the norm in customer care but businesses must take care not to overstate the capabilities of their bots, according to Steven Fitzjohn, the regional vice president (APAC) at LivePerson.

To better understand attitudes towards the use of chatbots in customer care, the business messaging solutions provider conducted a survey of more than 5,000 consumers from across Australia, Germany, France, Japan, the UK and the US. Amongst the Australian respondents, 42% rated their overall perception of bots as ‘positive’ while 47% rated it as neutral – 4% higher than the global averages on both counts.

Nevertheless, around three in five stated they would prefer to speak with a human, even if it meant having to wait short period of time, due to a perceived risk of being misunderstood by a bot. Despite this, Fitzjohn told Dynamic Business that in the same way that people have come to embrace the convenience and control afforded by online banking, they will inevitably accept the use of customer service chatbots.

“For too long, consumers have been put through the ordeal of having to wait on the phone line for extensive periods to receive customer service,” he said. “When integrated with mobile messaging, bots provide a simple and easy way to communicate with brands and sooner or later, it will be a normal way of life.

Fitzjohn identified the key pain points that the use of bots in mobile messaging can address for not just consumers and brands but also customer service staff:

  • Customer Service Staff: “The benefit for customer service staff is that firstly, chatbots are trained and capable of addressing simple and routine customer queries, which lightens their work load considerably. Once a bot has directed a query to a customer service agent, the mobile messaging platform allows that agent to address the query in their own time, which ensures that response is not rushed and is addressed more effectively to solve the problem.”
  • Brands: “The use of bots in mobile messaging is beneficial for brands because it streamlines the customer experience, allows for greater customer flexibility, takes the load off customer service staff and allows them to address queries more effectively to produce a better customer experience.
  • The Consumer: “While previously the only way a consumer could interact with a brand was through the website or call centre, the use of chatbots in mobile messaging allows them to communicate with a brand whenever they want and however they want.”

Fitzjohn said that making bots more user-friendly would help drive up preference rates amongst Australian consumers. Relevantly, he said it is critical that bots be trained to a) become better at recognising the intent of customer inquiries, and b) provide a smoother transfer to human customer care agents.

He added, “Consumers don’t want to be frustrated because, for example, they’ve had to repeat themselves multiple times before the bot recognises it is incapable of answering their question and transfers them to a human. They want to have peace of mind that comes with being notified that their query has been acknowledged and will be addressed”.

Asked to identify scenarios in which consumers would rather interact with a bot, Fitzjohn said LivePerson’s survey found that a majority of Australian respondents (75%) preferred bots when it came to simple, routine and transactional tasks, based on accessible customer data (e.g. updating address details, quoting a bank account balance, cancelling an account or changing a flight).

“The more complex and personal the task or query, however, the less likely it is that people will want to use a bot service,” he said. “For example, 71% of Australian respondents indicated they would be happy to use a bot to tell them their account balance, but only 17% would like to use a bot to correct a mistake on a bill.”

Fitzjohn advised businesses that are contemplating the use of bots in mobile messaging that it is “critical to set customer expectations from the beginning”. He explained, “This is to ensure that customers do not become confused around the bot’s capabilities. If a business claims that a customer can resolve all possible queries using their brand bot, the likelihood is that this will result in a lot of angry customers. While the use of AI allows for bots to learn and develop their capabilities, it is important that businesses define these limits from the start so that customers don’t become frustrated. It is also vital that alternative forms of communication are provided for the type of queries that bots are not capable of addressing.”