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To bot or not?

By Metropolitan GetUp Head, Berniece Hieckmann and Virtual Distribution Lead, Tharshan Moodley

by Media Xpose

Why utility, trust and humanity can make-or-break your bot

Poor Alfred. As Eskom’s proffered eager-to-please chatbot, he was never going to win any popularity contests thanks to his familial ties with the state-owned entity (SOE) that has managed to disappoint South Africans time and time again.

Unfortunately for Alfred, his shortcomings don’t end there. His design is menu-driven, which is limiting in itself. Now pair that with the fact that Eskom’s customers typically have a wider range, a higher volume and a greater intensity of complaints than the average robot could be expected to handle, and he was always going to fall short – causing further frustration for those already at the end of their tether.

But Alfred is certainly not alone in his limitations – most businesses still have some way to go for their bots to become a seamless part of the client engagement experience.

Utility then trust

With any new technology, trust follows familiarity, which is preceded by utility. When the telephone was first introduced in 1876, people were wary, using it primarily for practical purposes. Need an appointment? We’d make that necessary call. Want to have an hour-long chat with your bestie? I’d rather pop over for a cup of tea, thanks.

But as the adoption curve ramped up, things changed. People started to have arguments, heart-to-hearts and teary discussions over the phone; expressing the full spectrum of human emotions as their comfort and trust in the medium grew. This is where tech amplifies humanity – it becomes a means for us to connect in a way that feels natural.

We saw a similar adoption curve with the internet and are now quite comfortable with surfing our way around the interweb. We also saw the same pattern with social chat applications, which were initially used for communicating the necessary, and later became our preferred tool for having emotional conversations or even ending relationships! But bots, such as Alfred, are new to the scene and we’re responding the same way that we did when the telephone was first introduced: with caution.

There’s no doubt that bots can add a great deal of value to our customer value proposition, but for this to happen, we need to better understand where and how they fit into the equation.

Think human first

All too often, brands – having spent time and money on bot development – are ultra-enthusiastic about their investment and try to inject that same enthusiasm into someone’s life. And fail.

WhatsApp, especially, is a highly personal channel, where we communicate mainly with friends and family. Thus, businesses attempting to contact a customer via WhatsApp run the risk of invading their personal space, and need to tread carefully.

If you want tech to amplify humanity, you need to think human first.

In other words  –

Don’t show up at my braai in a tux

Or – don’t bring a procedural feeling to a conversational channel.

Giving consumers too few options or being too robotic in your dealings causes frustration because it regresses a channel that has become conversational, such as WhatsApp, to utilitarian, creating a disconnection that is jarring.

Secondly, manage expectations upfront. Make it clear to your customers that the bot they’re engaging with is not human – misleading consumers, even inadvertently, breeds distrust.

Let them know your bot’s capabilities from the get-go and give them a clear exit path should they not get the answers they need, and want to speak to a person. If your customers cannot exit your bot, they may just exit your brand.

Utility, trust and humanity

Let’s say I lose my partner, and I reach out to a financial services provider on the matter of their life policy, which is an emotional and high-stakes engagement for me. I am in shock and don’t want to speak to someone on the phone, but I need to resolve the financial side of things speedily so that I can be left to grieve in peace.

I engage with the financial services provider’s chatbot (which I understand is not human), and my claim is processed swiftly. A few days later – once I have had a few days to process – a customer care adviser gives me a call; a kind, human voice who assures me that my pay-out is on the way, and asks me if there’s anything else they can help me with.

This financial services provider has handled a very sensitive time in my life with both efficiency and empathy; it has shown me utility, trust and humanity at a critical juncture in my life, and my connection with the brand grows stronger.

The learning here is that humanity needs to be integrated into the process. Humans should walk alongside bots – it cannot be one or the other, as different people respond to different scenarios, well, differently.

We need cooperation between human and bot

Bots have an important role to play and can become a key link in the customer engagement experience, but cooperation needs to happen between humans and bots first. We need to provide our customers with utility, trust, and humanity in our bot interactions, for this channel to become truly entrenched in their lives.

Solving for one but not all of these is jarring for your customers and will impact the customer engagement experience – and not for the better. Just ask Alfred (if only you could).

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