According to findings from the 2016 Consumer Experience Index survey by Aspect, 44 percent of shoppers prefer to use chatbots rather than speak to a live agent, assuming that the automated assistant is capable of handling the request. Forty percent of those surveyed also said that assuming the quality of the experience and privacy are preserved, they would like to use services such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat to communicate with companies; this is up from 33 percent last year.
The need for self-service tools in general is on the rise, likely because consumers have never enjoyed the idea of calling customer support, says Tim Dreyer, senior director of analyst relations at Aspect. This year, 71 percent of participants said they want to be able to solve customer service issues on their own, compared to 64 percent who said the same thing last year.
"It's silly, but one of the questions we ask is whether customers would rather clean a toilet than contact customer service, and for two years in a row, roughly 40 percent say they'd rather clean the toilet. That's alarming," Dreyer says.
According to the study, the number of companies that lose business over bad customer service is growing in most industries, including telecommunications, travel, financial service, and big-box retail, so businesses can no longer afford to stall the introduction of the self-service tools that consumers crave.
For companies that are hesitant to implement chatbots so early in the game, it's worth mentioning that consumers' expectations for these automated tools are realistic. Consumers have high expectations when it comes to providing basic information about a company, confirming purchases, checking whether products are available, confirming bookings, tracking or making changes to shipments, or requesting service at a hotel. Expectations are much lower, however, when it comes to getting complicated information about products or services, making changes to accounts, or carrying out troubleshooting.
Consumers were also overwhelming in agreement about the importance of live agents—86 percent said chatbots should be able to transfer an engagement to a live agent, and 88 percent agreed that live agent interactions were not going away, but that the role would evolve into that of a subject matter expert. "We're not going to see support agents disappear. They'll still be incredibly valuable for any complex issues," Dreyer said.
As chatbots mature though, Dreyer maintains that expectations for their functionalities may grow. "Right now, we're still seeing a lot of leftover frustration from traditional IVR. No one wants to be stuck on the phone with an automated machine, trying to get through to an operator. As chatbots become more intelligent, we'll see people relying on them more heavily to carry out customer service requests," he says.