By now, you’ve probably interacted with a chatbot. You navigate to a website, and a small chat box pops up on your screen, offering to provide assistance. Sometimes there is a real human being behind that chat box ready to answer your question. Other times, you’re chatting with a chatbot—an artificial intelligence (AI) program that is configured to answer basic questions.
It’s fairly easy to tell the difference between the two. Humans communicate in a different way than live chatbots. When dealing with a chatbot, you can get answers to basic questions. However, the communication is often cold and robotic—just what you’d expect from a “robot.”
On the other hand, live chat agents communicate in a more personal way and are much more versatile in their ability to provide detailed solutions to customer issues.
Today, we are seeing the evolution of chatbots as they inch their way further into the customer support presence of many businesses. But will they ultimately replace live chat agents and be fully responsible for responding to live chat queries? This is a complex question, and the answer is multifaceted.
The short answer is: no, they won’t replace live chat agents any time soon. But the distant future is more difficult to predict. Below, we’ll dig into the nuances of answering this question and provide insight into the shifting dynamic between chatbots and live chat agents.
Advantages of chatbots
Chatbots are becoming commonplace, and companies are increasingly using them to manage their live chat function. Here are a few benefits they provide:
Chatbots can “learn” as they go, meaning they continually gather information and grow their ability to answer basic questions posed by customers. When someone visits your website and asks a basic, common question, chatbots can provide immediate answers based on what they “know”—i.e. the data available to them. However, they are still limited in the sense that they can only answer basic questions (more on that below).
When chatbots are employed to answer basic questions, businesses can maintain a smaller support team which saves resources. You can let the bots handle the basic, easy-to-answer questions, while your support reps focus on more advanced help desk tickets.
This means you’ll need to hire fewer support agents. However, you’ll need to ensure that the agents you do keep on the payroll are highly-experienced and skilled at resolving more complex issues. You’ll no longer need to hire low-level agents to handle basic support questions.
Managing unlimited chats simultaneously
While your human customer support agents can handle multiple chats at the same time, they have a saturation point. They can only handle so many chats at once.
On the other hand, chatbots don’t need the same amount of time to think and respond to live chat questions. If they are answering basic, common questions, they can handle an unlimited amount of chats at the same time. This results in quicker resolution times—again, only if they are responding to basic queries.
Drawbacks of chatbots
While chatbots can save you money, increase response times, and manage more chats simultaneously, they still lack certain characteristics that customers look for. Here are a few limitations of using chatbots:
Difficulty answering complex questions
Although AI and chatbots are hot topics these days, the hype surrounding them is often inflated. They can answer basic questions, but the human brain and its ability to think critically gives live agents a competitive edge.
When a visitor asks a chatbot a complex question that it can’t answer, it will likely ask for the visitor’s email address so it can get back to them with an answer. That is because the chatbot doesn’t know how to answer that question.
In cases like this, your help desk solution routes the question to a human agent who has the ability and knowledge to provide an accurate answer. The drawback here is that the visitor must wait for a response, which may come in a few minutes, or a few days. Customers don’t like to wait for a resolution to their issue and the time lag involved in forcing a customer to wait on a response negatively impacts the customer experience.
According to Forrester, 77% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to illustrate its focus on delivering world-class customer service. When a chatbot can’t answer a question immediately, customers start to question a company’s ability to effectively and efficiently serve them.
Chatbots lack the human touch
It’s frustrating to ask a question via live chat and get a robotic answer that misses the nuances of your issue. Humans have empathy and the ability to understand complex variables in customer queries. Chatbots do not.
That is one main reason why consumers still prefer to communicate with a warm body rather than a cold robot. Humans can understand and solve unusual questions that a chatbot cannot. According to CGS’s 2018 Global Consumer Customer Service Survey, 60% of US consumers give up on a chatbot and reach out to a human because their issue is too complex for a chatbot to address.
Advantages of live chat agents
As mentioned above, chatbots still have a long way to go until they can compete with live chat agents. To illustrate why this is the case, here are some advantages that human chat agents being to the table:
Higher first contact resolution rate
First contact resolution (FCR) rate is the percentage of customer support issues that you resolve on the first attempt, without having to look for the answer get back to the customer. Because chatbots can only answer basic questions and have to escalate complex issues to human agents, they reduce FCR rate considerably.
As mentioned above, valuing customers’ time is very important. Human agents have the ability to troubleshoot an issue in the moment. Chatbots do not.
As mentioned above, chatbots are limited to answering basic questions. They can’t resolve complicated, user-specific issues.
On the other hand, live chat agents can. They know the product, the customer, and can dig deep into an issue to find a resolution that fits the needs of each unique customer.
If your company is using help desk software that provides dedicated help desk group functionality, the quality of your customer support increases further.
Dedicated help desk groups are segmented teams of support agents that specialize in a specific product or service rather than fielding support issues about every product or service you offer. By leveraging them, you ensure that customers receive advanced support every time and never have to communicate with a new agent that doesn’t understand their issue. Learn more about dedicated help desk groups.
Personalized and empathetic support
These days, more companies are moving to an all-in-one customer relationship management (CRM) solution because they provide full sales, marketing, and help desk automation features, all on the same platform.
If you use an all-in-one CRM, your system tracks every customer and prospect interaction in a centralized database. This allows live chat agents to easily check a customer’s support ticket history—using a 360-degree contact view—and quickly understand the use case and context of the customer’s issue.
Armed with that information, live chat agents enter a chat knowing the nuances of that specific customer’s history and past issues. That lets them personalize their response in a way that directly addresses the unique needs of that specific customer.
Moreover, a live chat agent can put themselves in the shoes of the customer and empathize with their situation. This lets them think more critically and thoughtfully about how to best resolve customer issues. Chatbots don’t have—and will never have—true human empathy.
This personalized and empathetic approach to handling live chat issues gives humans an edge over chatbots. And it’s an edge that will likely always exist. Human will always feel more comfortable communicating with another human than with a bot.
Limitations of live chat agents
Chatbots won’t replace live chat agents any time soon. That much is clear. However, live agents do have some limitations, which is why chatbots are useful. Those limitations include:
Slower response times for basic questions
Human agents can only handle so many chats at the same time. Even with live chat software that offers multiple chat windows, live chat agents only have two hands with which to type responses to customer chat queries.
Although their responses are generally more thorough and relevant than those of chatbots, it may take them longer to respond to a basic question. That means that customers are waiting longer for a response.
Many customers will be happy to trade a quick response for a thorough, delayed response that fully addresses every aspect of their query. But the fact remains that chatbots are faster at answering basic questions than live agents.
Human agents need to go home at night to sleep and prepare for the next day of work. They are only available during working hours unless you employ a team to be on call around the clock. But fewer customers need assistance in the middle of the night, so it’s not financially advantageous to have a live team working around the clock.
Chatbots don’t sleep. They can be deployed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although they only respond to basic questions, at least they give you the ability to offer 24/7 live chat support. And while that support may not be as comprehensive as that provided by a live chat agent, it still sends the message that you care about your customers’ needs and are offering support any time of the day or night.
The bottom line
Chatbots are here to stay. They will continue to evolve and become more adept at resolving customer support issues. However, the hype surrounding chatbots and AI, in general, remains overblown and overly optimistic.
There is still a clear need for live agents to handle complex support issues, and chatbots won’t be able to fill that need in the near future.
Let’s circle back to the initial question posed in this article: will chatbots replace live support agents? The short answer is no. Rather, chatbots will continue to penetrate the customer support efforts of businesses around the world, but in a way that complements live support agents and makes them more efficient.
The two will work in tandem to improve customer support, with chatbots continuing to handle basic questions and live agents taking on more complex issues.
Your best approach is to view chatbots as tools that empower your live agents to deliver better support. They can free up time for your live agents to focus on more complex issues, which will increase customer satisfaction and retention. For now, it is advantageous to leverage both and find a balance between the two that makes your team as effective and efficient as possible.
Are you using chatbots? Do you have any unique insights into the use of chatbots that you can share? Let us know in the comments section below!