Can chatbots replace human interaction?

It’s a mistake to assume younger customers will always choose convenience.
11 June 2019

Useful tech, or a long way off? Source: Shutterstock

For customers, chatbots offer a time-saving option to communicate with brands. Rather than having to wait on hold on a support line, the technology satisfies today’s desire for instant appeasement.

For businesses, AI-driven chatbot technology saves human resources and allows them to claim ‘always-on’ support— even if that support is limited to pre-programmed responses to routine inquiries.

This recipe for success is such that, according to Statista, 67 percent of consumers worldwide used a chatbot for customer support in the last year.

Forty percent of consumers, meanwhile, claimed they do not care whether they’re helped by a chatbot or a real human, while it’s predicted that 85 percent of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent by 2020.

Beyond providing customer support, future advances of chatbot technology for a long time been offered as machine learning a natural language processing (NLP) technology moves forward. From serving as personal shopping assistants to providing ‘stigma-free’ emotional support, future use cases are optimistic and rife.

But according to a new report by GlobalData, in certain scenarios, robot-advice services just aren’t yet cutting it.

In its UK Investors Survey, the firm found that just 5 percent of millennials chose chatbots to discuss the buying and selling of investments. For the remainder, face-to-face communication still reigned supreme in this scenario, with 95 percent preferring to speak to a human financial advisor.

GlobalData’s Sergel Woldemichael said digital services can provide advantages in accessing new demographics as well as offering operational efficiencies through automation. However, when it comes to making investment decisions, the vast majority of “digitally-advanced younger generations” still require human interaction and expertise before they make an investment decision.

In this case, the report states that traditional wealth managers are seasoned professionals that have experienced multiple recessions and periods of market volatility: “[…] they are able to weather a storm and with a potential market downturn on the horizon, robot-advisors may not be ready to tackle the risks to client investments that come with it.”

GlobalData’s research is limited to the use of chatbots in wealth management. However, it demonstrates that consumer-facing businesses across industries should not take it as a ‘given’ that younger customers will favor the convenience of the technology over the value provided by more traditional approaches of communication.

This especially applies when the subject of the query is particularly sensitive or high-stakes, where a sense of human connection provides necessary reassurance and peer validation to the decision made.

Of course, chatbot technology will always provide the benefit of lending users a sense of anonymity and the freedom to explore products or services in their own time without the pressure or expectations attached to speaking to representative in-person.

In the healthcare industry, Microsoft offers an Azure-hosted ‘Health Bot’ SaaS platform, allowing customers— from insurance and pharmaceutical companies— to create their own uniquely functioning chatbots.

The idea is that both sensitive queries and routine requests could be handled by the technology, helping to relieve resources in the already overburdened healthcare sector.

Use of chatbots will vary case-by-case across businesses. But while technology will certainly progress, true success will rely on the trust built between customers and the technology— and whether that is sufficient to satisfactorily replace the human element.

“Pigeonholing the next generation into a digital chamber is the wrong way to view millennials,” Woldemichael said. “Mobile investment apps are unable to cater to the emotional needs of humans when seeking financial advice.

“A hybrid model is the best bet for the moment, and for the near future. Evidently, these digital natives are still seeking a human to collaborate with and gain valuable insight from.”