Tech & The Web

DIalog on Customer Service Chatbots Takes Goofy Turn

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Last Updated on February 8, 2024

If you could deal with customer service chatbots or human beings, which one would you almost always choose?

I recently stumbled upon a discussion on LinkedIn about customer service chatbots. I agreed with some of the points of view. But I found others laughable.

We as customers are having to deal more often with chatbots these days. We call a customer service number and have to enter a maze of menu options. When we finally navigate our way through, some systems try to let the computer answer our questions.

That’s perfectly fine…if it’s a simple question. A chatbot can be fine — and faster — for giving you an account balance or providing details on your last payment. They can easily provide you with updates on when work is expected to be repaired or when a technician is scheduled to arrive. They can remind you of a scheduled appointment.

But if your situation is a bit more complex, chatbots often miss the mark and in a big way.

I recently had a problem with my bank. It claimed that a renewal on flood insurance had been missed. The real problem was that the property where I live simply failed to provide an updated certificate showing the renewal. Rather than follow up with the insurance company or the listed purchaser of said insurance, my bank came to me, threatening to charge me for an insurance policy they’d set up on my behalf — at a much higher rate than I could find on my own — unless I provided proof of renewal.

What followed was a battle between me, the bank, and automated systems that apparently try to do all the thinking humans used to do. Those automated systems failed miserably.

The LinkedIn discussion on chatbots followed a predictable path

I wouldn’t expect people who work with companies that provide or depend on chatbots to badmouth the technology. I certainly wasn’t disappointed there.

The title of the chat was “Benefits of Chatbots.” Right off the bat, I assume people are going to be defending this fancy-schmancy technology. That’s fine.

There are benefits one could identify. For employers, adding chatbots might eliminate the need to hire additional bodies that would perform the same tasks that the chatbots could perform without labor costs. For customers, when the question they have is a simple one, the chatbot could potentially provide it faster.

Those are potential benefits.

Someone who said they work in the banking industry said he remembers a time when people reacted as negatively about automatic teller machines as they now react against chatbots. When ATMs first came out, there was resistance. I remember the first ATM I ever saw. A bank called C&S in Columbia operated what it called the Financial Wizard machine. It was an ATM with a fancy name. I don’t know of anyone who hated it. My dad used it when he needed cash. No problem.

But I’m sure there were people who didn’t like that option. They liked going inside a bank to interact with a human teller. That option still remains. To this day. It’s less convenient, but there are still human tellers out there.

“Chatbots offer a valuable enhancement to customer service, delivering swift responses to common queries and allowing human agents to focus on more intricate issues,” one user, Denise, said.

In theory, I agree with Denise. The problem is, chatbots don’t always seem to want to give the customer an easy way to reach the human for the more intricate issue.

Let me give you an example from just last week

I received a telephone call last week from someone who identified himself as a representative of Xfinity. The caller, whose English was barely recognizable, claimed they found a problem with my modem. A required update could not be sent, he said, and that meant I would lose internet service.

He asked if my home internet was working and if I recently changed anything. I told him it worked fine as of that morning and that I had not made any changes to anything.

He went on claiming there was some problem, but the call disconnected before he could ask for any kind of payment or authorization that would have screamed “scam.”

So I called Xfinity to verify if the call had been legitimate and to find out what, if anything, was wrong.

The automated attendant kept trying to send me to the chatbot, which it said could answer a variety of questions, thereby avoiding the wait time. Each time it asked if I wanted the chatbot, I said no.

It asked about nine times whether I wanted the chatbot. Once should have been enough.

The wait for a human was about three minutes. I gladly waited three minutes to get someone who could verify that there was, in fact, nothing wrong with my modem and there were no “updates” stuck in some queue that couldn’t reach my modem.

I seriously doubt that a chatbot would have been able to understand that I was trying to fact-check what felt like a spam call.

Chatbots don’t always mean satisfied customers

What the chatbot supporters want everyone to believe is that they make things quicker for the customer. Therefore, they reason, the customers will be more satisified.

“Chatbots offer a valuable enhancement to customer service, delivering swift responses to common queries and allowing human agents to focus on more intricate issues,” one user, Denise, said.

I agree with Denise about the “common queries.” I agree with her on giving the humans the chance to focus on those more “intricate issues.”

But there’s a big problem here that most people seem to be overlooking.

When employers figure out that they can replace workers with machines to answer those “common” questions, they generally don’t eliminate one or two workers. They eliminate more than that. The result? The customers who need more complex assistance with those “intricate issues” have to wait longer to reach one of the remaining humans.

The very chatbots that are supposed to make things move faster can lead to a workforce reduction that makes things even slower for the customer.

Tell me how a customer is supposed to be happy with that.

The employer, meanwhile, is saving on payroll and laughing to the bank. The employer doesn’t have to deal with the chatbots. They don’t ever put themselves in their customers’ place. If they did, they’d either ditch the chatbots or hire additional humans to rectify the problem the chatbots seem to be causing.

We can hope that day will come…but I doubt that it will.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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