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Study: Customers hate chatbots, except in this specific situation

Chatbots make good fall guys, but they can’t beat a human touch for critical communications.

Study: Customers hate chatbots, except in this specific situation
[Source Photo: Charles Taylor/iStock]
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“Hello, my name is Leon. How can I help you today?”

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Consumers do not like to discover that Leon is a bot. It feels like Leon lied from the start. Yet numerous companies rely on millions of round-the-clock customer service bots, often in dozens of languages, and few seem to open with, “Hi I’m a bot.”

You see the quandary for companies. Researchers at the University of Göttingen delved into whether bots might be more acceptable to consumers in some circumstances, and indeed they are. They found that when bots could not resolve an issue, customers were actually pleased to discover that their conversation partner was a non-human. Chatbots, it seems, make good fall guys.

“A chatbot is more likely to be forgiven for making a mistake than a human,” says lead author Nika Mozafari, a research assistant in marketing and innovation at the university. The customer blames neither the company nor the bot, and may even have a positive reaction.

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Conversely, customers detest addressing important matters with a bot, the researchers found. Would you want to talk to a non-human to reschedule a risky medical treatment or discuss financial difficulties? No. You’d feel uncared for and ignored. In marketing speak, the interaction degrades customer trust with the brand.

The researchers hope this study sheds light on how chatbots can be better deployed. On critical issues, the human touch still can’t be beat.