I'm honestly terrified of robots — even ones that are supposed to be good like Optimus Prime and RoboCop. They freak me out, and my immediate instinct is almost always not to trust them. Still, I understand how practical they are and how ubiquitous they're becoming, so I've been working on warming up to them.
They're developing a place in many — if not most — industries and are being used to complement or enhance the day-to-day operations of several kinds of workers, and customer service reps are no exception. The advent of chatbots has undoubtedly shaken things up when it comes to support.
That trend begs the question of whether chatbots can actually fulfill the responsibilities of human service reps. Can one of these programs do anything a human can? And how open are customers to receiving help from one?
Here, we'll answer those questions, go over the respective perks and benefits of employing human reps and leveraging chatbot software, and explore the general consumer perspective on the issue.
Pros and Cons of Using Human Reps for Basic Service Needs
1. Can Solve More Complex Issues
Human service reps are more capable of complex problem solving than their AI-powered counterparts. If a customer comes with an issue that warrants a lot of critical thought or considerable back and forth, a human rep is much better equipped to hash out a solution with the customer in question.
2. Able to Gauge Emotions
When working through a problem with a customer, human reps can demonstrate compassion and adjust how they approach the issue at hand to put a customer at ease.
Unless the chatbot software you're leveraging can pass the Turing Test, it will have a hard time recognizing a customer's frustration or confusion and adapting accordingly.
3. Understand Conversational Language
People don't always speak in plain, straightforward language. They might use slang or take a more casual, conversational tone when trying to resolve customer service issues.
Human reps have an easier time picking up on the nuances of that kind of speech than chatbots. In turn, they can engage with customers speaking conversationally more fluidly than their robot equivalents.
1. Limited Availability
All human reps have lives beyond their roles. So naturally, they don't have the time, energy, or interest to stay at the office 24/7 responding to service inquiries.
That means their availability is typically limited. Some businesses might try to stagger reps' hours to keep someone online at all times, but in most cases, companies can't have human reps available every hour of every day.
2. Can Be More Expensive
It goes without saying, but service reps don't work for free. It's not unreasonable to assume that roughly zero support representatives are working purely for the love of the sport, without any sort of compensation. Depending on the scale of your service team, you could wind up paying a pretty penny in labor costs if your operations rely exclusively on human reps.
3. Have the Potential to Get Frustrated
Shockingly enough, human reps are actually human beings — with complex needs, interests, and emotions. Service reps can generally separate frustration from their work or power through it when it arises, but every now and then, a customer might pop up that really pushes their buttons. In those cases, the reps in question might convey their irritation in their communication, putting a damper on that customer's experience.
Pros and Cons of Using Chatbots for Basic Service Needs
1. Reduced Labor Costs
Chatbots don't work for a salary. In many cases, access to a chatbot software comes with an initial investment or a subscription. If the bulk of your service operation relies on these kinds of applications, there's a good chance you'll pay considerably less than you would if it leaned exclusively on a team of human reps.
2. Quick Responses
Human reps typically aren't expected to juggle several service inquiries at once. That can lead to delays and customers being put on hold. Chatbots aren't limited in how many problems they can respond to simultaneously, so whenever a customer asks a question, a chatbot can almost always respond immediately.
3. Consistent Availability
Unlike human reps, chatbots never have to go home, eat, talk to coworkers, attend meetings, or sleep. They can stay online 24/7. If a customer has an inquiry at 2:30 AM for some reason, a chatbot can reliably offer assistance — the same can't be said for most human service reps.
1. Potential Trouble with More Complex Problems
Chatbots' problem-solving skills are limited. If a customer has an issue that a bot isn't programmed to solve, there's not much it can do. Human reps can think critically about a situation, refer to helpful materials, and communicate with colleagues who might have an idea of how to resolve the problem at hand.
2. Limited Emotional Intelligence
Chatbots generally aren't hip to how a customer is feeling — their perspective is limited to whatever that customer is typing to them. They can't pick up on aspects of a service inquiry like the customer's tone or level of patience and, in turn, can't adapt how they're approaching the situation or addressing the person on the other end of the conversation.
3, Struggles With Conversational Language
Your average chatbot can have trouble with more casual, conversational language — like slang terms, acronyms, or misspelled words. There's a good chance that chatbots might need to be addressed in plainly and rigidly. That might not be in line with how some customers speak.
Do Consumers Prefer Chatbots or Humans?
Despite chatbots' prominence and practicality, our research indicates that consumers prefer interacting with human reps in virtually every customer service-oriented scenario.
Do consumers prefer chatbots or humans for large customer service issues?
Do consumers prefer chatbots or humans for small customer service issues?
Do consumers prefer chatbots or humans for service-related issues?
All this begs the question, "Should I invest in a chatbot software or employ human service reps?" The answer isn't so binary — it's not necessarily a "one or the other" situation.
Chatbots and human reps can cover their own respective tasks and responsibilities. There are plenty of things a chatbot can do more effectively than a human rep and vice versa.
That's why companies mulling over this dilemma shouldn't think in absolute terms. If possible, they should consider investing in a chatbot software to cover lower-level inquiries at any time of day and human reps to address problems that require more thought and personability.
Again, reps and bots both serve their own purposes, if you want your service operations to be as well-rounded as possible, consider leveraging both.
Originally published Oct 16, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated June 15 2021