Chatbots have been around for a while. Yet, now that Facebook will allow businesses to deliver automated customer support and interactive experiences through bots, they will be everywhere soon.

Brands might feel that they should replace their human employees with chatbots now, but they should think hard before shaking up the status quo. Ideally, humans and chatbots will work together to do the tasks they are best equipped to handle in order for both parties to be most effective.

While bots are being touted by some as the next big thing for handling customer service needs, chatbots are not sufficiently equipped to serve as the complete answer to a brand’s growing requirements. This is due to chatbots’ slow response times, limited “dialogue” and potential to suffer serious technological meltdowns. Bots may be hot right now, but companies should focus on using technology when it makes sense — not just technology for technology’s sake. That’s not to say chatbots don’t have value, but they do need to be utilized strategically. Companies need to know when to use a human or a chatbot — and when to use a mix of the two, which I’ll explain later.

Why are chatbots problematic?

Right now, bots are often used as customer service representatives and to assist in moderating and authenticating user reviews.

As fake reviews for cash become more popular, companies need a way to identify which reviews are authentic and which aren’t. This problem has become so widespread that Amazon sued three retailers for purchasing fake online reviews this year.

Unfortunately, despite their sudden surge in popularity, bots are ineffectual at solving this problem on their own. This is because when companies use bots to determine if a review is fake, they typically only rely on things like IP Addresses, which can easily be masked.  To truly determine if reviews are legitimate, what’s needed is a combination of sophisticated tools that look at things like device finger printing and velocity trends in combination with a human force that can review the content. Bots miss reading commentary within the reviews themselves to determine if the reviewers actually had first-hand experience with the product.

Aside from using bots to identify fake reviews, chatbots are also problematic when used in the customer service industry. Chatbots cannot provide authentic human interaction and do not possess the same emotional and intellectual capacity as a human brain.

What does authenticity have to do with it?

Inauthenticity is hurting the retail industry and bots are only adding to the problem. Unfortunately, ensuring the authenticity of every piece of content that comes through a ratings and reviews system is difficult, but it is important. Using technology like bots in concert with a human team can ensure that content is authentic and appropriate to post to a site, but trying to rely solely on bot technology can and will lead to false positives or negatives.  Without a human presence involved, this can result in flagging an authentic review as fake and scrubbing it from the system, or worse, letting a fake review through, which opens up an entirely different set of problems. Determining whether a review is authentic or not is a little like being an investigator, and humans need to work alongside bots to ensure accuracy.

When is it time to use chatbots?

While the issues with chatbots have been covered thoroughly, they actually do provide quite a bit of value. Bots allow for cost-savings when effectively replacing humans and are more efficient. Chatbots are best when replacing humans for repetitive small actions or to collect basic pieces of information. For example, a chatbot should be employed for tasks like tracking numbers, understanding the nature of a problem, locating the status of an order, sharing an account balance, or something equally straightforward.

Chatbots are actually better than humans in some areas, as well. Technological filters help augment human capabilities and can “see” imperceptible patterns of technology by processing millions of pieces of content faster than any human could. Without technology, a human is only capable of so much — restricted to the limitations of their individual mind and knowledge base.

When is it time to use humans?

It will be some time before chatbots replace humans in any instance when the ability to comprehend and respond to emotion are important factors. Humans are much more valuable in situations where it’s necessary to identify humor or understand nuances in language. Since chatbots aren’t able to communicate in an interpersonal way, they can completely erode the customer’s experience when they’re executed poorly. Consider a situation in which a mother orders a birthday gift for her daughter, and it’s broken upon delivery. Having a human who can sympathize, respond appropriately, and help come up with a creative solution is much better than using a chatbot that can only parrot back what it’s been programmed to say. Human interaction and moderation is necessary to ensure maximum consumer satisfaction, especially in the retail industry, where there’s often a need for empathy and an outside-the-box solution.

Why is personalization so important?

As consumers move away from in-store experiences to a more digital-first environment, brands and retailers should work to identify more ways to maintain the personal touch that is absent in an online retail environment. Personalization is also directly correlated to consumer spending; 48 percent of consumers spend more after a personalized ecommerce effort, according to a MyBuys survey.

Deciding whether to use chatbots or not can be determined on a case-by-case basis, but humans allow for a more personalized approach that’s sometimes necessary.

What’s the solution?

It’s all about balance! Use bots to do the process-oriented tasks, and save the more complex issues for humans, who will make the customer experience richer. The combination of human and technological processes converge to create the most effective solution. Bots were built with the intent to create better, more seamless consumer experiences — this puts the onus on businesses to ensure that their use of bots is done in a manner than actually enhances the experience for the customer.

Chatbots definitely have a place in businesses, they just aren’t ready to replace actual humans…yet.

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