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Don’t let your webchat be misunderstood

I have just been frustrated by yet another online business trying to push me away with their ‘chatbot’. It was rubbish, as they all are, but I couldn’t get through to anyone who could answer my query (by phone or web chat) without going through the rigmarole of answering all of the chatbot’s gatekeeping questions first.  I just knew from the outset that after a two-minute interaction, we’d get to the following point:

  • Chatbot: Did that answer your question?
  • Me: No.
  • Chatbot: *Sigh* – I’ll put you through to a real person then.

Needless to say, my opinion of any company that fobs me off with a chatbot becomes lower than it was when I started the interaction.

I thought therefore that it was worth reassuring everyone who doesn’t have any intention of adding one, that they’re doing the right thing. And don’t listen to the people who say that bad chatbots are just badly programmed chatbots. Just …no. Most customers do not give them the benefit of the doubt that they might be helpful. They will resent them (and the business) from the first time a bubble pops up to say “can I help you?”

Chatbots are regarded with even less credibility than the overseas call centres we’ve hated for years. For customers who are comfortable with technology, they say: “We’re trying to save money at the expense of good service”.  For customers who aren’t, they just say: “We don’t want to talk to you”.

This does pose a challenge to those businesses offering a webchat service with a real person at the other end. Don’t misunderstand me here – many customers love these. What those businesses need to do is to ensure that customers immediately understand that what they’re being offered is a true webchat facility – an alternative to a telephone conversation.

And getting that message over is a crucial presentation issue.