The robot chatbot uprising has begun.

Between Siri, Alexa, and a slew of other platforms, chatbots are quickly changing the traditional customer experience. In some cases, chatbots have even replaced human assistants altogether—but what do customers think?

While opinions tend to vary, they still provide promising insights for businesses trying to streamline their customer experience and successfully implement AI.

Chatting with Chatbots: Survey Says…

Overall, the data looks promising for chatbots.

In a massive survey conducted by chatbot company Drift, 64 percent of over 1,000 users said that “24-hour service” was a major benefit of chatbots, while over half of the same users cited other perceived benefits such as instant response times, getting quick answers to simple questions, and easy communication.

chatbots report - potential benefits by generation
Source: Drift

Users see the benefits of chatbots, but are they ready to abandon human interaction?

Not yet, it seems. In the same survey, 43 percent of users said they would “prefer to deal with a real-life assistant,” and 34 percent said they would likely use a chatbot to “[find] a human customer service agent.”

It seems that humans still like talking to humans. However, this preference doesn’t rule out chatbots—it could make chatbots even more useful.

The Chatbot Challenge

We can draw two major conclusions from the survey: (1) humans still like talking to humans, but (2) prefer the convenience of chatbots.

Closing the gap between human “quality” and chatbot “convenience” is the biggest challenge faced by the chatbot industry, with developers continuing to close the gap with each new improvement in AI and machine learning. While technologies such as Alexa and Google Home are already showing great promise, there’s still a long way to go before human assistants go extinct (their jobs, we mean!).

In the meantime, humans remain (more or less) indispensable. However, can we still benefit from using chatbots?

Absolutely. Again, humans love the convenience of chatbots, especially if they’re confident that the chatbot can do what they need it to do—whether that’s answering a simple question, directing them to a human, or whatever else.

However, this enthusiasm often comes with hesitation, with 30 percent of users saying that they would “worry about [a chatbot] making a mistake.” Further, 24 percent said they wouldn’t want to use a chatbot if it “wasn’t able to ‘chat’ in a friendly manner,” and 26 percent said they’d “prefer to use a normal website.”

chatbots report - potential blockers
Source: Drift

Unfortunately, most users will likely remain hesitant until chatbots are so widespread and of such high quality that they don’t think twice about them. Until that time, we can still have a happy medium: strong, adept chatbots backed with by strong, adept human support teams.

Achieving the human-chatbot balance is a challenge in and of itself. Done successfully, however, a hybrid support model can offer customers (and businesses) the best of both worlds.

Merging Man and (Chat) Machine: Hybrid Support Models

First and foremost: Chatbots should support – not replace – human support teams.

Ideally, a chatbot serves as a “first line of defense” for online support. When a user visits a website and has a question, a good chatbot should be able to handle most of their requests with ease.

Basic information, such as operating hours or product pages, should be no-brainers to a chatbot. Simple requests are where chatbots excel, and most users already expect this—who wants to go out of their way to call customer support just to find out whether a product is in stock?

Things can get tricky once user requests get complicated. Most users don’t expect chatbots to handle complex situations such as product returns or special requests. While some chatbots might be able to help with these tasks, a good chatbot will usually direct the user to a helpful human.

Now, this is the part where many chatbot efforts fail.

Suppose that there wasn’t a helpful human at the other end of the chatbot. This situation might (rightfully) seem ridiculous, but it’s all too common: Many organizations wrongfully assume that chatbots are “magic bullets” meant to automate their customer support entirely.

Such thinking is wrong.

Again, a chatbot should only supplement an existing team—not replace it. Keeping this in mind is extremely important when going through with adding a chatbot to your support team.

Adding a Chatbot to Your Support Team

Good news: onboarding just became easier!

Related image
Source: NBC

Your newest team member doesn’t need a benefits package or a welcome party (you should still get cake, though). With a little setup, a chatbot can start providing around-the-clock support in well under an hour.

However, the setup might not be so simple, depending on the needs and complexity of your organization. Before choosing a chatbot, you should define the exact role you want your chatbot to assume—doing this will not only help determine which chatbot you choose but will also help define how your existing support team will work alongside the chatbot.

Whatever you do, ensure that the roles of your support team and your chatbot(s) are both well-defined. To this end, most chatbots allow existing support staff to work seamlessly alongside them through online dashboards and interfaces.

Once in place, your chatbot will be able to support both your customers and your support team, and, depending on the chatbot, even help with lead generation and appointment scheduling.

Conclusion: Long Live (Properly Implemented) Chatbots

While chatbots might never completely replace human support teams (or will they?), one thing’s for sure: chatbots are here to stay.

Successfully implemented, chatbots can help streamline both customer experiences and human support teams while also monitoring user activity to generate leads, schedule events, and more. Setup complexity can vary depending on your organization, but it’s usually worth the effort.