The digital landscape has changed massively over the past 20 years, with significant advances made in the field of customer service and user experience. Some of the biggest changes include website animation and micro-interactions, coding languages to make websites more visually appealing and quicker to load, and the introduction of those “love it or hate it” sims, “chatbots”.

Chatbots have been widely adopted across many websites in many different sectors, aiming to enhance user experience and streamline communication. This surge in chatbot usage initially started of slowly but has picked up significantly in more recent years, despite a rather diverse reception from users.

The Evolution of Chatbots

Chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) programs. Initially, a chatbot would be simplistic, with one-line responses based on a set of rules which limited the amount of interaction a user could have; usually, the questions would be limited and often frustrating, especially if the chatbot option had replaced other options to talk to a human customer service representative. Thankfully, many companies have invested in more advanced technology now, so chatbots are now more capable of understanding and responding to user queries in a conversational manner, providing real-time assistance on websites.

There are still instances in which a human user will prefer to speak to another human rather than a machine and negative feelings can arise if the company in question has removed this as an option. One good example of chatbots being used in customer service is that of Amazon. Whilst initial customer queries are dealt with by a chatbot, it is simple to then connect with a human customer service rep if required, either by live chat or phone.

Chatbot Benefits

It’s easy to see why a business would embrace chatbot technology – running an automated system means that customers have access to a form of customer service that is perhaps more convenient for them as well as outside of “normal” working hours. Using a chatbot can also reduce the need to employ more human customer service reps, although this isn’t necessarily a good thing for those looking to work in this area.

  • 24/7 Availability: Some businesses have a chatbot running 24/7 which can benefit users if they are looking for answers to questions or just need basic information. However, if this is something being offered, the chatbot technology being used should also give the customer an option to contact human customer service reps in working hours if their query cannot be dealt with by the chatbot AI.
  • Efficiency: Chatbots run on sets of rules and, being machines, they do not deviate from these. In this way, chatbots excel in allowing businesses to automate and streamline their basic customer support processes, which can result in faster response times.
  • Personalisation: Advanced chatbot technology has the functionality to analyse user behaviour, which enables the AI to deliver personalised recommendations and content. This then creates a more tailored and engaging user experience. It must be noted though that this level of chatbot technology comes at a cost and is not always an option for smaller businesses.

User Experience Impact

Whilst some businesses have been quick to adopt chatbots, the crucial question remains: How do users feel about them?

Opinion of chatbots still tends to be mixed – there is no doubt that they do offer advantages to both businesses and customers with their instant assistance, ability to answer basic (and, in some cases, more advanced) questions and, if available, put users through to human CS reps. However, there are still concerns and criticisms that often crop up when it comes to using chatbots for customer service. These include:

  • Lack of empathy: Customer service problems are often emotionally charged, especially in B2C sectors such as retail or healthcare where problems like delayed delivery or incorrect items, breakages etc may be linked to special occasions with deadlines or health. Chatbots by their very AI nature are not emotional and customers may link this with a lack of empathy, not necessarily from the chatbot but the company using the chatbot for customer service. Many people prefer to speak to a human and some companies do use a chatbot instead, which can lead to a perception of poor customer service.
  • Misunderstandings: Chatbots may occasionally misinterpret user queries, which is frustrating and doesn’t resolve the initial issue being raised. It can be hard then to contact the company, which compounds the issue.
  • Concerns around privacy: Users are ever increasingly conscious of data privacy, and concerns may arise regarding the security of information shared with chatbots. Not all chatbots ask for personal information, but it may become essential to resolve specific user related issues.

All things considered, the rise of chatbot usage and functionality on websites represents an ever evolving shift in the way businesses engage with their online audience. User reception remains diverse despite the advantages that chatbots can bring. As technology continues to advance, the evolution of chatbots will undoubtedly shape the future landscape of online interactions – with this, businesses must ensure they strike a clear balance between the convenience of automated interactions and the need for human touch.