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Customer Perception of Chatbots: Is it Human or Machine?

Most businesses are waking up to the novelty of chatbots. Businesses and media understand them to be convenient, cost-effective and productive. However, do the general public view them differently? What is the customer perception of chatbots? Are they aware of whether they’re talking to a person or a robot and is it important to them?

We should never imagine that a chatbot is a human or vice versa. Any organisation that seeks to mislead their customers into believing they’re talking to a human is not using the technology correctly. The customer’s discernment of what they’re interacting with is very important, as it affects the analytics of your engagements.

Chatbot – consumer interaction: the facts

A recent survey concluded that:

  • Almost every internet user has already communicated with a chatbot.
  • Users would rather receive an instant response from a chatbot than have to wait for a human
  • Human agents should never be far away, if the chatbot outdoes its usefulness
  • People view chatbots as advanced and modern, and do not consider the cost benefit to the company
  • Despite their speed, they are restricted in their usefulness
  • They are most useful for basic requests – anything qualitative should be taken to a human

How customers perceive chatbots: study case

Another study has concluded several things about what customers want from their relationships with chatbots. One possibly surprising piece of advice was that customers wanted to get to know their bots. They wanted to see pictures and names to contextualise them and construct deeper relationships. The likelihood of a favourable customer perception would therefore be raised.

Customers also wanted the chatbot to be able to relate with them on a personal and colloquial level. Whenever a chatbot presented too much emotion or spoke with rude or meaningless phrases, it was perceived by the customer as jarring and off-putting. Although, when customers perceived the chatbot using colloquial and relatable language, they were able to see the human quality beneath and had a more favourable reaction. Added to this, context was important in customer perception of chatbots. It would change depending on their mood, their conviction or their desire for human connection.

Another important aspect was the degree of customer perception of the chatbot’s genuineness. When the user was able to perceive authenticity they had a favourable reaction and found the experience more useful. Some users felt that the computer was only capable of giving ‘standard answers’ and others were worried that the chatbot did not treat their queries with any seriousness.

It was important for the users studied to clarify whether they were talking with a machine or a real human. In the cases were they weren’t sure, they made steps to attempt to discover the truth. Users felt uncomfortable not knowing if their responses were being monitored by a real human, or by a machine, and when they weren’t able to perceive the difference, it felt uncanny. Users were always very keen to define this relationship early on in the process.

customer perception

Successful young woman in modern office working on laptop.

Target demographics affect customer perception enormously

Analytics and research tells us that a large majority of chatbot users are young – between 18 and 29, and half of that group use chatbots on a regular, weekly basis. This group are not looking for public information, and would rather be helped on a personalised basis. This goes some way to explain the decline in effectiveness in email marketing, where the user is aware of its wide spread. Communications based in a chatbot window feel more personalised and unique, which is important to this age bracket. The proof is in the pudding, statistics show the rate of click-through from chatbots are 12 times higher than email. Customer perception data tells us that the time to move from email to chatbot / AI marketing is now.

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