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Human versus Chatbot – what works best?

With chatbots becoming more and more prevalent across customer service in multiple industries, what are the use cases where a chatbot works better than a real person?

It’s NOT the rise of the machines

Firstly, chatbots don’t actually work better than a real person; they efficiently deal with routine inquiries and information requests, enhancing the workplace contributions of internal teams by freeing up time to allow increased focus on higher value, more complex tasks.

A recent report from Drift, SurveyMonkey, Salesforce and myclever reveals that 15% of respondents confirmed that they had communicated with businesses via a bot in the previous twelve months.  While this figure is expected to rise, it still means that 85% of respondents had communicated with a human.  Although the use of chatbots will increase over time, there will always be a place for human to human interaction; the difference is that it will be of a higher quality.

Human skills versus chatbot skills

So, what are the relative skillsets of humans versus chatbots?  Humans have empathy, emotional intelligence, can read between the lines and can sense the tone during one to one communication.  Chatbots are great at speedy responses and complex computations.  They can handle hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations simultaneously and efficiently.  To a point.  And then a human can step in to handle any complexities that crop up. 

In essence, chatbots are masters at quickly handling frequently asked, routine questions.  Humans excel at understanding human emotions and complexity; and shaping response around that.  And we’re much better at understanding a quirky turn of phrase too.

Where chatbots make a difference

In general, chatbots facilitate a 24/7 solution to routine questions.  Lots of websites have live chat functionality, and visitors to sites often expect instant answers.  If your team are not around, who is going to provide that instant response before you lose that particular visitor to the competition? A chatbot can really cement your reputation as an always-open, always-helpful organization.

We’ve talked a lot about chatbots answering questions for users, but what about proactively asking pertinent questions?  We’ll take an example from the sector that Gecko works in most frequently; higher education.  During the student enrollment process, a university will want to ensure that students understand the many options available for financing their studies, but simply doesn’t have the resource to proactively have that conversation with many thousands of prospective students. The great thing about using a chatbot in this kind of scenario is that you can ask a question at scale and the chatbot seamlessly manages the responses and information requests that are returned.  The university has shown prospective students that they take a proactive approach and the chatbot has answered inquiries and steered people to the right information in an instant.

Another area that chatbots excel in is making sure that all the content on the website they are associated with is more accessible.  Many websites have a huge back catalog of content and data, however, if a visitor is looking for the answer to a specific question, they are far more likely to use a search engine than an FAQ or search function within a website.  And the trouble there is that search engines will rank older data more highly than the newer content that customers need.  A chatbot programmed to run with all the website data provides an instant connection to the most up to date content.

Are there real-life examples of chatbots complementing human efforts to deliver enhanced customer service?  Of course!  Let’s take a look at a few industry examples that perfectly illustrate that point.

  • Financial Services: Wells Fargo has implemented an AI-driven chatbot within Facebook Messenger to enable customers to ask and receive answers to queries around account balance, recent transactions, where to find an ATM or how much they need to pay to their credit card that month.  This saves time not only for the customer, who no longer has to find the appropriate channel to gather information, but also for the Wells Fargo employee, who can spend time dealing with more complex inquiries and leave the routine responses to the chatbot.
  • Transport:  The KLM chatbot fields multiple requests from travellers, providing them with flight information, boarding passes, check in messages and flight statuses.  This frees up staff time to focus on face-to-face communication with customers on-site, or virtually when a more complex inquiry is raised, and the bot immediately transfers a customer to a human if a request is complex.
  • Groceries:  Back to a Facebook Messenger chatbot example with Whole Foods.  This chatbot not only helps to find nearby stores, but directs users to recipes, products and meal inspiration.  With options for different types of food and international cuisines, it’s very easy for users to narrow down to the kind of recipe they are looking for.  The chatbot even responds to emojis, if a pizza slice is sent, a recipe for pizza appears.  Customers are receiving a high-value service; for free, maximizing brand perception.

With all of the above examples, the chatbot isn’t displacing employees, it’s enhancing the service to customers and freeing up staff time for higher value tasks.  In the battle of humans versus chatbots, there IS no battle; humans and bots each bring their own unique skills to the party.