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If you’ve ever had to call a customer support number, you’ve encountered that all-too familiar voice reading off a list of options and which numbers to press to record a response. They often ask a series of questions designed to either give you the information you need, or transfer you to the person who can best help you. Often they’ll automate the some of the process by getting your account number information so the live person won’t have to go through those routine questions at the start of the call. These digital phone assistants free up human resources and improve productivity for the live customer service agents. They’ve become commonplace so much so that we expect to get one when we call customer support and are surprised if we don’t.

Though there are still some that don’t like interacting with these phone robots, overall we have a positive view of them and they’ve becoming fairly accurate at getting us to the right person quickly. We also recognize the need for their existence.

The internet now has its own version of the automated phone assistant in the form of chatbots. Chatbots are designed to do the same kinds of things but they operate online, on mobile devices, and within messenger apps.

The challenge presented by chatbots

Just as customers were initially hesitant about the growing use of automated phone assistants, many have misgivings about chatbots preferring to speak or chat with real people. But just as automated phone assistants overcame these obstacles, chatbots will as well.

One issue people have with chatbots is that they’re too-robotic or impersonal. Chatbot developers are constantly working to counteract this stereotype by developing a chatbot with a pleasant personality and the ability to engage in some small talk as a human would.

How to best use chatbots on your website

User behavior suggests that consumers don’t appreciate chatbots that are overly intrusive or annoying. Chatbots shouldn’t show up on the homepage in the form of annoying pop-ups. On the other hand, you don’t want to bury them in a place customers can’t find them when they want to. The ideal use for a chatbot would be to try and anticipate when a customer is likely to have a problem finding information or to have a chatbot that can recognize based on user behavior (long pauses between clicks or frequent clicking between pages) and initiate communication then. In this way, website-based chatbots can be used to generate leads and conversions when they otherwise might have left the site in frustration.

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