Chatbot frustration leads to consumers opting for human interaction

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Mathew Conn, group chief revenue officer at Merchants.
Mathew Conn, group chief revenue officer at Merchants.

The majority of surveyed South Africans prefer to communicate with a contact centre agent either via e-mail (68%) or by telephone (62%), rather than resolve a query through a chatbot (35%).

This is according to a survey carried out by business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions provider Merchants.

The research was conducted through a consumer survey, among a sample of 2 000 South Africans aged between 18 years and 50+years, who were interviewed.

It highlights that SA’s national lockdown and continued social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic are creating a further necessity for consumers to engage with contact centres more regularly, with an increase in the influx of calls at customer contact centres reported in the last few months.

When contacting a business or service provider, 68% of respondents said they prefer e-mail communication, 62% opt to speak to a person, 39% prefer WhatsApp, 36% select social media communication, and only 35% said they are more likely to communicate with a live chat service/chatbot.

In the last month, 63% of respondents said they had contacted their bank, 50% had contacted their mobile service provider and 41% had contacted their Internet service provider.

The contact agents in these organisations will have to adapt quickly to the ‘new normal’ and require excellent problem-solving skills, which combine soft skills and digital skills, advises Merchants.

Human preference

While many people might start their query with a chatbot or digital platform, they most often end up seeking human interaction in order to resolve their query as quickly and effectively as possible, notes the survey.

Among the reasons customers often opt for other forms of communication is that pre-trained chatbots follow a structured conversation plan and can lose the flow fairly easily. With more access to customer history and data, smarter chatbots can ‘learn’ customer preferences.

While technology and chatbots have a huge role to play in customer experience in 2020 and beyond, their role will certainly not be to replace human agents altogether, notes Merchants.

“The role of tech and chatbots will be to enhance the overall interaction; human interaction augmented by the efficiency of bot and the intelligence of tech will often result in the best experience for the customer,” says Mathew Conn, group CRO at Merchants.

“The first and possibly most important failure of chatbots comes from the organisation in question not identifying what customer interactions are right for enhancement with chatbots. This is why it is so important to have a business process outsourcing partner who understands the business and where chatbots can have a positive impact, rather than creating a negative customer experience.”

Chatbots work well if customers start their conversation as a chat, before being transferred to a human agent if needed, notes Conn. The problem comes in where customers have started a conversation on another channel such as the phone or e-mail. Without consistency across the omni-channels, chatbots will force the customers to start over – and risk damaging a brand and customer experience, he points out.

“While technology is able to fulfil many roles and automate most end-to-end processes, the contact centre will always be an environment where the human element is critical – and I believe this is going to become even more important as we move into the ‘new normal’ and faceless interactions between businesses and their consumers continue to increase,” says Conn.

In terms of their experiences with contact centres, one of the biggest frustrations cited by respondents was the need to contact a business multiple times to resolve a query.

When asked what the most important trait is in a contact centre agent, the top result was ‘problem-solving ability’.

The second most important trait, according to the survey, was personality, followed by knowledge of products and services.

“South African contact centre agents are known for their problem-solving ability, and I believe this is what puts the country at the forefront of becoming the next BPO destination of choice as businesses look to outsource into multiple regions,” says Conn.

“While human elements like empathy, humour and patience remain important in the contact centre, problem-solving will always be the priority for the consumer.”

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