Are chatbots truly the future of customer experience? Or will human interaction always reign supreme?
In the rapidly evolving world of retail, these two questions have become increasingly relevant. On one hand, chatbots are efficient, quick, and always available; on the other hand, they lack empathy, accuracy, and personalized attention.
Since nearly 80% of American consumers say that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience, how do you make sure that your ecommerce chat solution is worth your investment? The answer lies in finding the perfect balance between automation and personalization.
Read on to explore the pros and cons of chatbots, and why a hybrid approach is the key to reimagine the digital customer experience.
Chatbots in Retail: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
When we think of chatbots, there's a tendency to envision a sleek, futuristic interface — perhaps a glowing orb spinning on a screen, ready to answer your every question.
But like any technology, there are pros and cons. And since chatbots continue to be a polarizing topic among retailers and consumers alike, let's explore both sides of the debate so you can decide if chatbots fit into your customer service model:
- Instant Customer Service. By providing instant, efficient customer service, chatbots can greatly improve the shopping experience for customers. No more waiting on hold or sifting through confusing FAQ pages — chatbots provide quick and concise answers to customer questions, helping shoppers make informed decisions and ultimately increasing sales for retailers. Plus, chatbots can handle multiple queries simultaneously without getting tired, ensuring that every customer gets a prompt response. This frees up human customer service representatives to focus on more complex queries that require a human touch.
- 24/7 Availability. With chatbots, customers no longer have to wait until business hours to get the assistance they need. This is especially beneficial for retailers because it allows them to reach a wider audience and provide better customer service than ever before. Instead of being limited by their physical stores' opening hours or call center availability, chatbots can provide instant support to customers around the clock.
- Easy Orders and Returns Tracking. Chatbots are especially helpful for tracking orders because they can provide real-time updates on the status of your order, including tracking information and estimated delivery times. And instead of filling out forms or waiting in line to make a return, you can initiate the return through the chatbot and receive step-by-step instructions on how to complete the process. This can save customers time and reduce frustration, resulting in a better overall shopping experience.
- Unable to Process Natural Language. When a customer asks a question using colloquialisms, idioms, slang, or complex sentence structures, chatbots may not be able to interpret the meaning behind their message accurately. It’s like trying to communicate with someone when you don’t speak their language: you might be able to get your point across, but it’s hard to convey all the nuances and details of what you’re trying to say. This can be frustrating for customers who are looking for specific information or assistance, as they may not receive the help they need — or worse, get inaccurate information.
- Impersonal and Robotic. If you have a problem with a product and reach out to customer service via chatbot, but receive a canned response that doesn't address your specific issue or provide any helpful information, odds are you're going to be frustrated and feel disconnected. Humans crave social interaction, but chatbots simply lack the ability to understand emotions and context in the way that humans do, so they may be unhelpful in more complex or unexpected situations.
- Lacks Customer Data. Even though chatbots can answer basic questions about products or services, they can't read between the lines or ask follow-up questions that would provide deeper insights into customer preferences and needs. This means that retailers are missing out on valuable opportunities to collect data and improve their offerings based on customer feedback. For example, without deeper insights into customer preferences, a business might continue to produce products that are no longer popular, or fail to capitalize on emerging trends in the market.
Ask Not What Chatbots Can Do For You, But What They Can Do For Customers
When it comes to chatbots, many companies approach the technology with a "what can it do for us" mentality instead of focusing on the needs of their most important asset: their customers. This approach may seem logical at first glance, but it often results in chatbots that are underutilized or worse, used incorrectly.
Think of it this way: if you were planning a party, would you create a menu based solely on what foods you have in your kitchen, or would you consider the tastes and preferences of your guests? Similarly, when implementing a chatbot, it's essential to think about the needs and desires of your customers — especially considering that 53% of U.S. online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.
For example, a retail company may realize that customers struggle to find the right products for their skin type. By implementing an ecommerce chat solution that helps customers find personalized skincare solutions, the company can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. Conversely, a retailer that implements a chatbot with the sole goal of reducing customer service costs may miss the opportunity to create a more meaningful connection with customers. If the chatbot is unable to provide the necessary support, customers will become frustrated and may ultimately abandon the brand.
So, how do you create a chatbot that aligns with your customers' needs and preferences? You add a human touch, which we'll cover next.
Striking the Perfect Balance Between
Automation and Personalization
Whether it's sizing, colors, or even just a personal recommendation, having someone to talk to before making a purchasing decision has a profound impact. That's why 82% of U.S. customers want more human interactions — live customer service representatives offer that warmth, friendliness, and personalization that chatbots simply can't replicate.
However, it's important to remember that automated chatbots and live customer service in retail are like two sides of the same coin: chatbots — with their instant, straightforward responses — combined with live customer service representatives create a seamless ecommerce customer experience. The chatbot acts as a first point of contact, quickly providing basic information and handling simple tasks. When the customer needs more personalized assistance, live customer service takes over, offering the human touch that turns casual shoppers into diehard brand advocates.
This is where managed live chat platforms, like ThirdChannel's, come in. These hybrid options blend the best of AI and automation with personalized support from live brand representatives — knowledgeable, friendly individuals who personify your brand and always point your customers in the right direction. Even better? You can use chat routing tech to pinpoint exactly where each customer is in their buying journey and sort visitors according to their purchase intent. This means you can be super proactive when it comes to sales, alerting the right brand reps during busy periods and putting the right resources in place to help drive conversions.
Eager to see ThirdChannel's managed live chat platform in action? Schedule a demo and see how we can help you balance automation and personalization to deliver an exceptional ecommerce customer experience.