A Third of Consumers Say Retail Chatbots Interactions Would Up Their Spending

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Nearly a half of consumers would shop more often—and more than a third would increase their spending—with retailers that offer AI-enabled e-commerce experiences. But first, businesses must deploy chatbots and related artificial intelligence technologies effectively and educate shoppers about their benefits.

A new report, “Finding Common Ground Between Consumers and Artificial Intelligence: A Closer Look at Consumers’ Current Relationships With Chatbots,” published by PointSource, offers insights and guidance for retailers and other businesses considering chatbots as a customer-facing solution.

From Siri to Alexa, artificial intelligence is a common feature in tech-connected Americans’ daily lives. Yet even as chatbots infiltrate myriad service-oriented websites, many consumers remain unaware of what exactly artificial intelligence is and how it can enhance their experience and accelerate issue resolutions. Despite that disconnect, the majority (83 percent) express confidence transacting with retailers and other businesses that incorporate chatbots and AI.

Strategic use of chatbots is critical not only for a successful deployment but also for ensuring shoppers aren’t alienated by a low-touch experience when what they want or need is hands-on human help. Commonly powered by natural language processing and other advanced technologies, these bots can assist customers with numerous tasks—but must be offered at appropriate points in the customer journey. Note that a full 80 percent of retail customers are uncomfortable turning to chatbots for assistance to resolve post-purchase problems, according to the report. What’s more, customers visiting brick-and-mortar stores strongly prefer help from a human (71 percent) in lieu of a bot. This indicates that customers want interactions suited to the channel: bots for online and people for face-to-face occasions.

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When shopping online, consumers might be okay with a chatbot up to a certain point, but require the reassurance that human intervention is available quickly and easily when needed. Almost one half (49 percent) of those surveyed in the report said they’d be more comfortable interacting with chatbots if they were confident their concern could be escalated to a live customer service representative. That means chatbots should be implemented alongside, not instead of, a human-powered customer service strategy.

[Read more on AI: How Artificial Intelligence-Enabled Customer Service Could Resurrect Brand Loyalty]

Businesses cannot overlook the value of the human touch in executing chatbot implementations effectively. Indeed, chatbots are often attractive because they handle simple, straightforward customer requests, enabling employees to focus their intelligence and resources on more complex issues. Those simple requests often occur early in the path to purchase when the customer is in the research and discovery phase. When checking product availability (38 percent), researching pricing and promotions (36 percent) and looking up product information (34 percent), customers prefer chatbots over their human counterparts.

This is perhaps because consumers might equate “simple” with “fast.” Indeed, those interacting with chatbots expect a swift resolution to their query. How fast? After five minutes, according to the report, customers become frustrated if they still haven’t gotten the right answers. By contrast, 34 percent of customers on hold waiting to speak with a CSR rep would want the option to switching over to a chatbot in order to resolve the problem at hand.

That frustration some customers feel after several minutes of fruitless interaction may stem from an underlying distrust in a chatbot’s abilities. While it’s understandable that most don’t think bots have achieved our levels of human cognition, more than half (51 percent) of consumers feel chatbots simply don’t understand their queries, and another 44 percent express doubt in the accuracy of information offered by the bot.

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