New Study: Customer Service in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Customer Service Artificial Intelligence


From Solving Problems to Saving Time — How Consumers Feel About ‘Bots’ vs Humans When it Comes to Customer Service

Over the last few years, artificial intelligence has permeated nearly every aspect of our daily lives. From the way we shop online and manage our finances, to how we plan and experience travel, AI has been leveraged to create efficiencies in just about everything we do.

For everyday consumers, one of the most common forms of AI interaction is with chatbots, or digital assistants. From using text or voice commands to place an order at Starbucks, to resolving a billing dispute with a cable provider, interactions with machines that use varying degrees of AI have become an integral part of the customer experience. It’s no wonder then the overall chatbot market is expected to surpass $1.34 billion by 2024.

And while the introduction of chatbots and digital assistants have opened up new doors for both brands and customers, there’s still a long way to go. While bots promised to end the frustration of getting stuck in a call center’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, consumers now face the annoyance of a circuitous conversation with rules-based bots that aren’t quite equipped to handle the nuances of human interactions. Which, in some cases, can be more than just frustrating.

With the use of chatbots by service teams projected to grow 136% over the next 18 months, we wanted to take the pulse of consumers to see how they feel about their interactions with machines vs. humans and what this means for the future of customer service.

To do so, Zingle 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:

Chatbot Use is Outpacing Calls to Customer Service Lines

When asked when the last time respondents interacted with a chatbot/digital assistant for a customer service need, 66% reported having interacted with one in the last month. That’s compared to 59% that said they have called a customer service line within the last month.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when looking at day-to-day use nearly 19% of millennials and Gen Z reported having used a chatbot within the last day. Comparatively, only 5% of those 60 years and older noted they had used chatbot within the next day.

With digital natives already showing an aversion for phone conversations and preference for text, it also wasn’t a major surprise that nearly 50% of 18- to 29-years-old said the last time they called a customer service line was more than six months ago!

Zingle Chatbot Survey Graphics

That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Bots Provide Better Service

With more and more people turning to bots for customer service, does this mean the outcomes are better? Not necessarily — 57% of consumers said they find human customer service agents to be more effective in solving problems or handling their needs. Notably, however, 35% said they find bots and customer service agents to be equally effective.

Zingle Chatbot Survey Graphics

When you look at the results by age, 70% of those aged 60+ reported that they find humans to be more effective in handling customer service needs, where those aged 45 t0 60 were most likely (38%) to say bots and humans were equally effective.

Men said humans were more effective in handling customers needs (62%) compared to women (52%), while women said bots and humans were equally effective (39% vs 32% of male respondents).

Timing is Everything

Of course, one of the main allures of chatbots is their ability to automate tasks and save time. And in today’s society, where our attention is split across a multitude of channels and devices, time is more precious than ever before.

However, when asked “On average, do you find chatbots or traditional customer service agents more time efficient in handling your needs?,” nearly half (49%) of consumers said they find traditional human customer service agents more time efficient in handling their needs.

Only 1 in 4 respondents said they find chatbots to be more time efficient, and the other 25% of consumers said they find both to be equally time efficient.

Gen Z and millennial respondents were the most likely (30%) to report that they find chatbots to be more time efficient than human customer service agents.

Zingle Chatbot Survey Graphics

Those ages 60+ were the least likely (15%) to say the same. Interestingly, it was those ages 45-60 who were the most likely (26%) to find bots and human customer service agents to be equally time efficient.

Does the ‘Bot’ Stop Here?

It appears that bots gain some lost ground when it comes to time efficiency, but is that enough to win over consumers?

We wanted to see what happens when you pit bots and humans head-to-head and give consumers an option of which they’d prefer to interact with.

While 36% of the general population reported they’d prefer a human over a bot
the majority of respondents (46%) reported that they’d “pick a chatbot if it meant I could solve my issue faster.”

With studies showing that we will waste 43 days of our lives waiting on hold, it’s not surprising that consumers are looking towards bots as a potential solution to helping them save time.

Zingle Chatbot Survey Graphics

Gen Z and millennials were the most likely (10%) to choose a chatbot outright over a human, and were also the most likely (11%) to say “Neither, in general, I find both to be lacking for customer service needs.”

Interpreting the Data

The results from our study indicate that consumers are using, or want to use chatbots more, but machines are simply not providing better customer service experiences than humans today. And despite humans having the edge, consumers’ desire to turn to bots to save time shows that traditional customer service agents also have plenty of room for improvement.

The takeaway here is that consumers want superhuman customer service — a combination of AI to quickly handle simpler requests and needs, and then route more complex issues to humans who can apply a more personalized and empathetic approach to solving problems and delighting customers. With a recent SalesForce report finding that 64% of agents who use chatbots are able to spend most of their time solving complex problems, this is a combination that will benefit teams and customers alike.

With the use of chatbots in the Travel/Hospitality industry expected to increase 241%over the next 18 months, and our respondents ranking Travel/Hospitality fourth behind Utilities, Retail and Finance, as the industries where chatbots are the most helpful, organizations would do well to rethink their customer service strategy and strive for a marriage of humans and AI that creates truly intelligent service. That’s the future.

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