While chatbots and digital assistants were created to bring efficiencies to our everyday lives by automating mundane tasks and helping us make decisions on everything from purchases, to personal finance, their impact on the world around us is poised to be far more consequential.
Although the majority of chatbot use cases today have relegated bots to a similar status as the dreaded call center Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, most agree that as this technology continues to evolve, it has the potential to transform the world around us.
And while most agree that bots still have a lot of maturing to do, the increased investment combined with our increased interaction with them shows that this evolution is only a matter of time.
Today, however, our interactions with bots have been, well, lackluster. Combine that with a backdrop where data breaches are taking a toll on customer loyalty, consumers are increasingly questioning the values of the brands they do business with, and many are concerned about the potential threats automation poses to their livelihood, and our relationship with these machines become even more complicated.
The team at Zingle wanted to see just how consumers feel about chatbots, the brands that leverage them, and how this evolving technology will impact the world around them. To do so, we commissioned a research study to more than 1,400 respondents, weighted for the US consumer population by age and region.
Here’s what we found:
When it Comes to Personal Data, Can Chatbots Automate Trust?
When it comes to interacting with technology today, perhaps nothing is more of a hot button issue than data security. In the age of the data breach, people are becoming more concerned about giving brands their data. And in the age of the chatbot, this means that we aren’t just handing our data to other people.
When asked whether they trust humans or chatbots more with their personal data, the majority of respondents (42%) reported that they trust humans and chatbots equally. 38% reported that they trust humans more, nearly twice as many that said they trust chatbots and digital assistants more than humans (20%).
Perhaps this coincides with the fact that 1-in-4 data breaches occur as a result of human error. That might also be why 25% of Millennials and Gen Xers (ages 30-44) report that they actually trust chatbots more than humans with their personal data.
Even the older generations, who are typically laggards when it comes to tech adoption, may have grown a bit cynical after years of humans mishandling people’s personal data. 46% of those ages 60+ said that they trust both bots and humans equally, with 40% saying they trust humans more, and the rest, 13%, saying they trust bots more than humans with their personal data.
Takeaway: The fact that twice as many people report that they trust humans more than chatbots with their data illustrates that even though consumers are increasingly wary of how organizations and their teams are handling their sensitive information, they’re not ready to relinquish control to bots.
Worry That AI Will Replace Humans at Work on the Rise
Much has been made of machines replacing humans in the workplace. According to our respondents, this is indeed a real concern. In general, 30% of our respondents reported that they are worried about AI replacing them in current or future jobs.
This worry increases amongst Millennials and Gen Z, with 38% of respondents ages 18 to 29 reporting they are worried about AI replacing them at work.
This is also in line with a recent Pepperdine University study that found 37% of millennials worry about their work duties being fully or partially taken over by artificial intelligence technology.
This is up from a 2017 study that found only 14% of Americans feared that their jobs would be replaced by a machine. Perhaps people are becoming more familiar with AI’s capabilities and therefore see the technology as more of a threat to their employment than they have in years past.
However, that same 2017 study found that more than half of workers (51%) would be willing to retrain or upskill, in order to work with automation or AI. With some believing that 40% of the world’s jobs will eventually be replaced by robots capable of automating tasks, this may be a wise position to take.
Takeaway: As people are becoming more aware of AI’s capabilities the threat that automation posess seems to be causing more anxiety. However, as our past Customer Service in the Age of Artificial Intelligence study shows, the lackluster customer experience that interactions that rely solely on AI are providing should serve as a comforting reinforcement that AI is more effective as a supplement to human roles, rather than a replacement.
How Chatbots Impact Brand Perception
You’d be hard pressed to find a brand today that doesn’t have some sort of chatbot or digital assistant designed to improve the customer experience.
In fact, the use of chatbots by service teams is projected to grow 136% over the next 18 months. Much of the investment from brands has been made in an effort to reap the nearly $8 billion yearly in customer support cost savings. With these numbers, it’s no wonder brands are jumping on the chatbot bandwagon.
While our data shows that this cost savings might not be as easy to achieve as companies think — with consumers reporting that their interactions with bots are not as efficient or effective as those with human customer service agents — there is something to be said about tech adoption and the effect it has on brand perception.
We asked respondents, “How does your experience with a brand’s chatbot impact your perception of that brand?” In general, 31% said it doesn’t impact their perception, while 25% said: “It makes me think the brand is just following in the footsteps of other brands using chatbots.” However, 18% of respondents said that “A positive chatbot experience improves my brand loyalty.”
And with brands across the globe working feverishly to gain an understanding of Gen Z and Millennial consumers, it’s important to note that they were the most likely (20%) to say that a positive chatbot experience improves their brand loyalty.
Those ages 60+ seem to be the most cynical of brands adoption of chatbots, with 32% saying that they see it as a brand following in the footsteps of others.
Takeaway: When it comes to the brands that are leveraging machines to interact with humans, 1-in-4 consumers think that they are just doing so simply because their competitors are. Brands would be wise to take a step back and carefully analyzing how and why they are deploying AI to interact with customers to ensure it adds to the customer experience, instead of doing so in an attempt to keep up with the “Jonses”.
These results paint an increasingly complex relationship between chatbots and consumers. While a good percentage trust machines as much as humans when it comes to the handling of their personal data, the bar has been set extremely low by the haphazard actions of companies. Respondents also show that the worry that the automation that underpins chatbot technology will someday replace them in their jobs is very real.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway is similar to our previous study, which suggests that brands must combine a mix of high tech (AI) and high touch (humans) in order to meet today’s expectations for superhuman customer service. Customers, especially those in the younger and growing millennial and Gen Z demographic, demand good service and a great experience. One in three say there is nothing a brand can do to win them back after a bad experience.
Knowing that, brands can ill afford to rely on technology alone to deliver a great customer service experience. Rather than deflect conversation with automated chatbots, the right technology must be deployed to automate simple responses and actions, but also smart enough to identify and escalate complex issues that require real interaction.
The human, not replaced but enhanced by machines, will have more time for the personal attention necessary to provide an experience the consumer will remember.