Chatbots are backfiring, ‘driving away customers’

Chatbots in customer support can backfire and result in the loss of business, according to a new Brunel Business School study.

The research, published in Services Industry Journal, investigates factors that make chatbot interaction a negative experience for customers, which can cause them to abandon a purchase or even a brand altogether, blaming the company rather than themselves for any communication failure.

“For firms, chatbots promise improvements in customer service while enabling big cost savings,” said Brunel Business School professor Dr Ana Canhoto. “The negative experiences identified in our study mean firms end up with unhappy customers, may lose customers or face a PR crisis which makes it hard to attract new ones.”

Unpleasant chatbot interactions are caused by inauthenticity, explains the study, when customers feel tricked into conversing with a non-human; excessive questions or repeated answers on the part of the bot; failure to exhibit appropriate empathetic responses causing upset; and failure to deal with complex queries due to a limited operational scope.

If customers conclude the chatbot cannot resolve their enquiry, they will grow frustrated and ask to speak with a human – and if this cannot be arranged, they are likely to cut off the chat and abandon the firm, as well as potentially taking to social media to express their dissatisfaction, the study concludes.

“When customer interactions with AI chatbots are negative, it can have serious negative ramifications on service providers, as customers can opt for more costly customer support channels, such as a phone channel,” said Canhoto.

“In such cases, investment in AI technology intended to result in cost savings might backfire and result in a heavier load on other support channels. Or customers may terminate the service, switch to a competitor, or complain on social media.”

Dr Canhoto advises businesses to use these insights to fine-tune both their bots and customer expectations of them to avoid negative experiences.
According to the Services Industry Journal, chatbots are involved in two out of three customer interactions.

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