Are chatbots the customer service saviour for introverts like me?

“Alexa, can you give me a snappy headline for my story?” - “How about ‘The Machines are coming to get you’?” “Erm Alexa, what?!?” - "I mean, how about …’AI and the effect on society’?”

Are chatbots the customer service saviour for introverts like me?

The machines are on the rise. Our daily lives have been infiltrated by artificial intelligence from chatbots, to facial recognition to self-driving cars and we have welcomed our robot overlords with welcome arms.  

 Well, to an extent. We have yet to create a 100% convincing humanoid, but we’re getting closer with more and more machines passing the Turing test. 

For those who didn’t have the pleasure of studying Computer Science, the Turing Test is “the test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human”. Developed by Alan Turing of Enigma Machine fame (and more recently the focus of the 2014 film The Imitation Game), a machine or computer passes the test if a human thinks they’re talking to another human. This ‘test’ is done without the human being able to see who they’re talking with, and the ‘talking’ is done via computer & keyboard. 

Chatbots are an example of machines sometimes passing the Turing Test. They’re becoming more prevalent on websites as they become an increasingly popular way for companies to divert (expensive) human resource from call centres to letting the bots manage frequently asked questions. It’s also great for introverts like myself who don’t want to talk to someone on the phone.  You know where you land on a webpage, and a friendly pop-up box asks how they can help you? Some websites are good at managing expectations that you are actually talking to a machine, but others can be misleading and name them ‘Janice’ or other such helpful-sounding name. Whilst they can make economic sense, they can often lead to frustration if they’re not managed correctly.

Companies shouldn’t be looking to chatbots as an easy, cheap panacea to enable cost-cutting

I’ve had recent exposure to this, when trying to rearrange a delivery with a company (who shall remain nameless). After an appalling experience, I have come to despise them intensely (along with many others by the looks of their twitter feed). I got caught in an infinite loop on their website, so resorted to an online chat since it proved impossible to speak to a human. When I asked for a redelivery on Wednesday, I was told ‘Yesterday’. Now, it may not be possible to time travel just yet, but I suspect I wasn’t conversing with a human. Either way, my problem wasn’t resolved (despite being reassured it was) and it was likely down to the shoddiness of the company and their minimal investment in customer service. 

Whilst the kinks are still being worked out, companies shouldn’t be looking to chatbots as an easy, cheap panacea to enable cost-cutting – there is a serious risk of losing customers through poor customer service. Expectations should to be managed and there needs to be a clear understanding internally with employees and externally with customers, about what chatbots can and can’t do. Ultimately, customers should be passed on to a person if the chatbot can’t handle the request.

Because introvert or not, sometimes only a human can sort out your problem.

Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash