Anyone paying any attention to consumer behavior today knows that customer desire to actually talk to companies is fading and fading fast. Gartner predicts that by the year 2020 only 10 percent of customer-company interactions will be conducted via voice. A big factor driving this shift is the preference for, and proliferation of, self-service transactions and interaction via text, mobile, and messaging. In fact, according to the recently released 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index research, 71 percent of consumers want the ability to solve most customer service issues on their own, which is up 7 points from the 2015 index. Even more telling is that most consumers feel good about the brand and themselves when they have a good self-service experience.

A growing and preferred means to conduct those self-directed interactions is through chatbots and automated interaction such as SMS and messaging. Not only are more consumers warming up to a chatbot experience, if done correctly, they’ll feel pretty good about the company offering it.

Here are the most notable findings in the Aspect research regarding preferences for interacting and transacting with chatbots.

Consumers want chatbots

Half of consumers said that they would prefer to conduct all customer service interactions via text/chat/messaging. What’s more, 44 percent said that they would prefer to use a chatbot to do so. Which considering the chatbots in use today, this a perfect marriage between consumer-expected and company-delivered performance.

Context and continuity matter

If one thing is glaringly clear from the data, it’s that people using chatbots do not want the experience to be in isolation. A whopping 80 percent of consumers expect any previous interactions or transactions to be immediately known and available in an automated self-service customer service experience. And nearly all of them (88 percent) want an easy and seamless transition from chatbot to live person if the interaction becomes too complex.

Men and women have differing expectations

When it comes to completing tasks such as getting basic information, confirming purchases, or checking product availability at a local store, women have higher expectations of chatbot performance versus men by a 2 to 5 point difference. In other words, they are more optimistic that conducting simple transactions and interactions via chatbots will be successful. However, when it comes to conducting more complex activities, such as getting an expert opinion, making a change to a purchase, or travel booking with a chatbot, men are more likely to expect a good experience than women, in the range of 7 to 12 percentage points higher.

Brands need to get the experience right

Even though expectations for the chatbot experience are increasing, some consumers are not quite ready. More than half those surveyed (60 percent) feel that automated interaction with a brand will probably end up providing the same frustrating experience that poorly designed self-service/IVRs do.

In order to avoid this, a chatbot should start with a manageable query set and be allowed to learn as usage and interaction data can grow the response library. Seventy percent of respondents feel that chatbots are best for simple to moderate transactions and interactions, so start with basic company or product information and in-store product availability before branching out to advanced troubleshooting.

Here’s a microstrategy to create a bot that meets consumer expectations:

  1. Interaction complexity has a good chance to lead to consumer perplexity, so until technology catches up, give chatbots simple or moderate transaction and interaction requests to handle.
  2. Enable an easy connection to a live agent if needed. Giving the customer an easy way to connect with a live person in the text or messaging app they’re in (versus giving them a number to call) will give them comfort that they will not be lost in an automated maze.
  3. Let the chatbot carry the context. If there is one thing customers hate, it’s having to repeat themselves. Let them pick up with an agent right where they left off with a bot and their issue will be resolved faster and with a higher degree of satisfaction.

The majority of consumers surveyed (61 percent) feel that chatbots are here to stay. The key for brands is learning from the IVR sins of the past and make the experience connected, conversational, and rewarding.

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