Why chatbots should not replace humans in customer service

By Stephen Pickett 

A few years ago American technology analysts Gartner predicted that by 2020 some 85 per cent of customer interactions would be managed without a human.

While that prediction might seem a little optimistic – artificial intelligence still has a long way to go – the widespread adoption of digital technologies and the rising influence of social media is rapidly transforming the process.

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Add the advent of chatbots to the mix, and an entirely automated customer service future doesn’t seem too far-fetched, if a little way off yet.

Facebook recently announced it would allow organisations to deliver a range of services, including customer support, through automated chatbots.

Many customers already use Facebook as a medium through which to interact with companies and organisations, and some savvy brands have been praised for taking advantage of the social network as a customer service platform.

But Facebook’s chatbot announcement will change the game by allowing companies to build and put their own chatbots into Facebook’s Messenger service to interact with customers.

On the surface this might seem like a positive development. After all, studies have shown a significant percentage of customers prefer self-service and being able to solve problems themselves, and on the other side of the divide, chatbots will take some of the time and expense out of customer service for businesses.

But whatever technological advances may come our way, we believe there will always be a need and a demand for human interaction in the customer service experience.

As we have blogged about previously, we think the ability to understand and respond to human emotion is a crucial skill for customer service teams.

Different customers have different needs and expectations, and keeping them happy with a consistently friendly and responsive manner is a basic requirement of customer-facing teams.

Though bots are becoming more human-like in their interactions, the technology is still a long way off from replicating emotional intelligence – the ability to read, understand and respond appropriately to different human emotions.

There is a glimmer of hope in that, while most of Facebook’s chatbots will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI), they can be paired with humans to help with more complex enquiries.

We would hope that, no matter what the potential savings may be, businesses continue to recognise the value of human interaction, intelligence and nous in their customer service offering and invest accordingly instead of moving to an entirely automated model.

In fact we would argue that the proliferation of technology has made human interaction even more important than ever to the customer service experience, especially when it comes to customer loyalty and brand reputation.

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