Why Chatbots alone are not the future of online retail

There’s no denying that Chatbots have increased in popularity on customer-facing websites over the past 5 years. On paper, they serve as a practical way of assisting users with queries and issues on a 24/7 basis. Where automation and AI can solve simple customer questions, there are however a few downsides, most of which come down to their limited capacity to understand, interpret, and offer a personalised response.

So what does the future look like for our little robot friends? Are they fit for purpose in a world where we make so many decisions based on a personal connection?

The Strengths Of Chatbots

One of the best things about chatbots is their constant availability, with the tools being able to process requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re also broad in capacity, with a single chatbot program being able to process thousands of requests at once. In this way, they serve as an ideal means to boost the availability and quality of customer service offered by a company, working to bolster brand reputation and user experience.

They also don’t necessarily require a massive investment and can be easily integrated into any company’s existing setup. Therefore, they’re more accessible and, in many cases, easier to operate than a team of staff with the same role.

The Weaknesses Of Chatbots

Although chatbots offer clear benefits, they also carry certain demerits that might cause concern. A significant challenge for chatbots is that their robotic and computed nature can sometimes work to their disadvantage when it comes to the value of their conversations with users. They’re often rigid, structured and repetitive and usually have difficulty contextualising natural language patterns. In this way, they can also prove to be inefficient when effectively processing consumer requests, as they’re generally more likely to misunderstand a user’s input.

Another drawback is that chatbots are only programmed with the responses they need to solve specific tasks, meaning that new or unusual requests can’t be processed. They’re also limited in scope, being unable to offer solutions outside of the ones they were designed for, which might cause users to abandon them in favour of other options.

Many chatbots also lack the ability to engage fully in conversation, only able to deliver one answer at any time and then requiring active input from the user before they can continue or take another question. Similarly, this structured nature also means that chatbots lack the ability to conduct a meaningful conversation, with statements that are rarely emotive or personalised to the degree they would be with a human operative.

Why Online Retail Needs To Become More Personal

As almost every retail customer journey begins online, an emphasis on customer experience and engagement is essential for businesses looking to capture their buyers. This means a focus on service and personalisation, and an overall effort to humanise the process itself.  Online retail can quickly become a plain and dislikable process without this, with customers quickly feeling confused, frustrated, or overlooked.

As we know, chatbots are often rigid in presentation and automated in nature, making their engagement with customers far more computerised than personable. This might work against businesses if they’re not careful, as users are likely to be drawn to websites that offer a conversational alternative instead.

For this reason, it’s clear that online retailers need to increase their focus on customer experience above automation to deliver a humanised experience that stimulates engagement between themselves and customers.

What are the benefits of this?

Ability To Answer Specific Questions

Given how almost every question a customer may have will be unique to them, an online retailer’s customer service ought to be able to have the capacity to respond accordingly, and in detail if necessary, to these issues.

Provide Specific Recommendations

Everyone has their own set of needs and values, making the notion of personalisation in customer service pivotal for businesses wanting to conduct it well. In this way, it’s essential to have a humanised approach to customer interactions in a way that is attentive to and considerate of a given user’s needs and preferences.

Easy Resolution Of Questions

The best way humans can learn is through a means that they are able to contextualise and understand. This is really only something that can be done by a human experience. Individuals can reap the benefit of having a conversational and responsive discourse when they have questions.

Build Brand Confidence And Satisfaction

A more personal approach to customer experience means that businesses will be able to more readily answer a broad range of questions and take more specific action on given tasks. This can mean better overall efficacy in the experience they offer, translating into buyer confidence and trust in the brand itself.

Opportunity To Build Connection

There’s no better way to support business rapport than through human connection. As something that automation simply can’t offer, it’s a unique opportunity for retailers to work with their customers on an interpersonal level. An engaging and approachable interaction like this can support customers in feeling more valued and appreciated, and not simply another website user that needs to have a request processed.

While there’s no doubt that chatbots can be valuable for certain tasks within online retail, their lack of emotional sensitivity and personalisation diminishes the level of engagement they actually offer to customers. As more businesses realise this, they’ll turn to humanised services that aim to strike a balance between digital logistics and interpersonal utility as a means of supporting better service.

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