More Than a Bot: eCommerce Chat and the Human Connection


Getting the right level of customer support can be difficult when making an online purchase. Being put on hold for live chat is incredibly frustrating, especially when your question is a simple one. On the other hand, repeatedly rewording your query in an attempt to get an automated bot to understand can be equally frustrating.

Of customers who have used chatbots, 80% have reported a positive experience. However, another survey found that 54% of respondents would prefer a live person, even if this took an extra 10 minutes. Clearly, customers have mixed feelings about AI-based customer service. For e-commerce businesses, these conflicting preferences can be difficult to manage.

Enter modern e-commerce chat.

To provide the best customer experience, which leads to brand loyalty and better sales, e-commerce stores need to balance the convenience of chatbots with the personal touch of human customer service representatives.

The Rise of Chatbots

Chatbots are rapidly growing in popularity, and with good reason. Studies show that more than 50% of customers now expect businesses to be available to answer their questions 24/7. Since having live customer service representatives ready to speak with customers at all times can easily become impractical, chatbots provide an appealing solution that many e-commerce retailers are implementing. More than 15,500 U.S.-based websites use chatbots, and this number will only increase. Customers spent $2.8 billion through chatbots in 2019, and Business Insider predicts that this spending will grow to $142 billion by 2024.

Bots are a cost-effective way for e-commerce businesses to offer 24/7 customer support without the labor costs of maintaining live chat or similar services 24/7. Using chatbots saves companies an average of $0.70 per customer interaction. For straightforward questions with objective answers, a chatbot can be a much more efficient way to share information for both the customer and the business.

E-commerce chat is faster than either searching the website or asking a live agent and having to wait for a response. The company gets to provide the positive customer experience of having a question answered immediately without needing to pay an employee to provide information that was already listed elsewhere on the company's website.

Customers often seek support when they're close to making a purchase. If an answer to a question is not available immediately, the customer might lose interest and fall off the path to buying. A chatbot can be an easy way to provide an interactive shopping experience.

However, chatbots don't provide the same understanding of nuance and emotion that human customer service staff do. When a customer is having a problem or has a more complicated inquiry, chatbots are not enough.

The Limitations of Chatbots

While e-commerce chatbots have many advantages, their fully automated nature comes with some downsides. Sales and marketing professionals know that forming an emotional connection with a potential customer is an essential part of selling your product. When a business relies exclusively on chatbots, it risks breaking the emotional connection at a key point in a potential customer's decision process.

Customers can tell whether they're chatting with a bot or a person. Unhelpful, generic, and irrelevant answers are frustrating and can lead a potential customer to give up on making a purchase. In an Uberall survey, 43% of respondents said that chatbots need to improve their understanding of what exactly a customer is asking.

Even when they understand what information the customer is looking for, chatbots can cause problems if they misread the customer's tone and the emotions prompting it. Written chat can make emotional sensitivity difficult for human customer service representatives as well, but humans will always be better at picking up on whether a customer is angry, curious, or frustrated and adjusting their responses accordingly. 

Sometimes empathy and emotional connection are needed to solve a customer's problem, and providing this level of customer service is essential for turning a one-time purchase into lifelong brand loyalty. One survey showed that 83% of customers feel a sense of loyalty to brands that are responsive and fix their issues.

The limitations that come with chatbots do not mean that e-commerce businesses should abandon the technology entirely. Fully people-based customer service simply doesn't align with modern customer expectations. Customers expect instant answers, and waiting for a human to respond to their message takes too long. If the customer has a question that could easily be answered by a chatbot, they won't want to wait for a response.

Striking the Right Balance

The best way to experience the benefits of chatbots while avoiding the downsides is to implement a solution that combines bots and live customer service agents. In fact, customers clearly prefer this arrangement, with one survey finding that 86% of shoppers expect that chatbots should always offer the option to connect with a live person. Shoppers like the speed of automated bots, but they also value the personalized connection and higher-quality assistance that connecting with a person can offer.

To provide the best customer experience, e-commerce brands need to implement a solution that offers both bots and live chat or other personalized communication. Connecting with a representative who believes in what your brand has to offer can help the shopper care about the product as well, inspiring emotional customer loyalty. With in-store shopping, data shows that connecting with a brand representative prompts customers to buy more. In e-commerce, where demonstrations and face-to-face conversations aren't available, making live customer service available can provide a similar effect.

At the same time, bots can provide the instant information that shoppers need to make quick purchasing decisions. Sometimes, speed is the most important factor for a customer. While chatbots are automated, they still provide a greater sense of interaction than looking for information in a product description or on an FAQ page.

To strike the right balance, e-commerce businesses should look for a chatbot system that efficiently redirects customers to a real person when necessary. ThirdChannel can help your business implement a solution that offers both. Get started today!

Published by Nick Ahrens, VP Sales and Strategy March 21, 2022
Nick Ahrens, VP Sales and Strategy