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Chatbots are expected to be able to help round-the-clock with instant service for simple tasks, but aren’t perceived to be the best channel for more complex inquiries. That’s according to a report [pdf] from Drift, SurveyMonkey Audience, Salesforce and myclever, which surveyed 1,051 US adults ages 18-64.

The “State of Chatbots Report” indicates that chatbots have yet to find broad appeal among consumers, though they do have a user base: 15% have used them to communicate with businesses during the past year. While other research finds greater usage among youth, it seems clear that traditional channels such as phone and email (6 in 10 respondents to this latest survey) are still far more commonly used. Moreover, respondents are more likely to be using newer channels such as mobile apps (30%) and social media (28%) than chatbots.

Nonetheless, chatbots – which are increasingly being used by Fortune 500 companies – do have benefits in consumers’ eyes. For example, more than 1 in 3 respondents predict that they would use a chatbot for a variety of tasks, including:

  • Getting a quick answer in an emergency (37%);
  • Resolving a complaint or problem (35%); and
  • Getting detailed answers or explanations (35%).

Moreover, were chatbots to be available and working effectively for online services used by respondents, a majority would expect to enjoy potential benefits such as:

  • 24-hour service (64%);
  • Getting an instant response (55%); and
  • Answers to simple questions (55%).

As the report’s authors note, “consumers see chatbots as being able to provide that real-time, on-demand experience that they’ve been craving.”

Separate results confirm that desire for a speedy response: three-quarters would expect an instant response when using a chatbot.

That in itself could prove to be enough of a use case to make these a large benefit for brands and consumers alike: speed is consistently ranked as the top element of a great online and/or e-commerce experience.

Not Up to The (Complex) Task?

While chatbots might find favor in providing round-the-clock assistance to simple questions, they’re less trusted for more complex issues.

Indeed, even if chatbots were available and working effectively, only around one-third would expect to enjoy detailed/expert answers (37%) or answers to complex questions (35%) from them.

Those answers are instead likely to come from real people… It’s worth noting that one of the leading predicted use cases for chatbots is to connect the consumer with a human customer service assistant, and that the top reason for not using a chatbot is a preference for dealing with a real-life assistant.

Not surprisingly, when comparing chatbots to phone use, the biggest discrepancies in perceived benefits in favor of using the phone include getting detailed/expert answers (51% phone; 28% chatbot) and having a complaint resolved quickly (35% and 15%, respectively). And while people are slightly more likely to believe they can get quick answers to simple questions from chatbots than from using the phone, they’re more apt to think they can get quick answers to complex questions from picking up the phone.

So it seems that the desire for human customer service isn’t going away. But at the same time, chatbots can prove a useful tool in specific service cases, according to those surveyed.

The full report can be accessed here.

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