It can’t be denied that consumer preferences for customer service channels are shifting more rapidly than ever, with the rate of consumers who identify digital channels as their preferred mode of communication ever on the rise. Unfortunately, the hype that surrounds digital technology can often serve to obscure the true picture of what is happening with digital customer service trends. Sure, 2018 was supposed to be “the year of the chatbot”, but it was also supposed to be “the year of IoT” and “the year of artificial intelligence”. So which buzzword trend does 2018 belong to?
There’s also the issue that, given the slow rate of implementation of digital transformation initiatives, some of the widely-circulated predictions about the pace of chatbot implementation seem wildly optimistic. With less than three months to go in 2018, is the market really on track to have bots involved in 85% of business/customer interactions by 2020? It seems unlikely, given that only 15% of consumers have used a chatbot for customer service in the past 12 months.
So what is the real story? Chatbots might be over-hyped, but they do deliver real benefits, not the least of which being that they enable truly scalable digital customer service. To help clear the confusion, we’ve sorted through the latest 2018 research on chatbots regarding implementation and consumer opinions to help you make sense of what’s real and what’s hype.
Customer service chatbots activity is increasing rapidly, but chatbots are still pretty uncommon
The amount of customer service traffic handled by chatbots has expanded greatly in the last year: Facebook chatbot activity in January 2018 was 5.6 times higher than just twelve months previous. However, the overall proportion of customer service being handled by chatbots is still pretty minuscule.
2 billion messages are exchanged between businesses and consumers each month – which is double the rate of 2016. However, as only 15% of consumers have used a customer service chatbot in the last 12 months, most of that messaging is happening between consumers and human agents. Further, while 2 billion messages per month sounds like a lot, consider that each customer service interaction will consist of an exchange of several messages, and by contrast businesses continue to spend $1.3 trillion on handling 265 billion customer service phone calls each year.
So while digital customer service continues to increase year-over-year, it is still dwarfed by the amount of customer service being provided by phone. And while chatbot customer service is growing, the overwhelming majority of digital customer service is being provided by human agents.
Consumers want to message businesses, but they are frustrated with the online experience being offered
The demand for digital customer service is clear: 70% of consumers prefer messaging to phone for customer support. But often, the options for online service are limited to website portals or mobile apps – which only increases customer frustration, because they’re tired of poorly designed websites that make information hard to find, and they’re tired of having to install an app to get mobile customer service.
Among the top online customer experience frustrations:
- Website search function is not useful
- Poorly-designed apps
- Takes too long to find information on products or services
- Basic business details are hard to find
- Can’t get answers to simple questions
- Hard-to-navigate websites
How people perceive and interact with chatbots
Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, people interact with chatbots in a more conversational manner than search engines and ask them more complex questions: the average chatbot query is 5 words, as opposed to 2 words for the average search engine query.
Additionally, chatbot-based customer service is strongly appealing to some consumers. When asked about the expected benefits of using chatbots for customer service, consumers identified the following:
- 64%: 24/7 service (Drift)
- 53%: Speed of issue resolution (Ovum Research)
- 45%: Convenience (Ovum Research)
However, while there are use cases where chatbots are seen as more convenient, it’s also true that many consumers are still warming up to the idea of using customer service chatbots; chatbots are seen as 24% more convenient than email and 31% more convenient than phone for getting 24- hour customer service. But chatbots are also seen as 24% less convenient than email for getting detailed answers to questions, and 14% less convenient than email for overall ease of communication.
Additionally, consumers still commonly identify many obstacles to using chatbots for customer service (Drift):
- 43%: Would prefer to deal with a human
- 30%: Worried about the chatbot making mistakes
- 27%: Would only use through Facebook
- 26%: Would prefer to use a normal website
- 24%: Would only use if it were able to chat in a friendly manner
- 3%: Other
Infographic: Chatbot Facts Summarized
So what does all this mean?
It’s all well and good to shed light on the current state of chatbots, but what should your company actually be doing to work toward a digital customer service strategy that integrates chatbots in a positive way? Stay tuned for our next two posts, which will focus on buzzword-free customer service chatbot advice and examples of chatbot success.
In the mean time, please contact us if you’d like to talk to one of our digital customer experts about making chatbots part of your road map for 2019. Or go here to book a demo and see our platform, which includes the ability to build and integrate customer service chatbots, in action.