What are the current crop of customer service chatbot vendors doing to customer experiences? A new study reveals that they are potentially destroying them.

Chatbots are everywhere. Gartner has identified more than 1,000 vendors offering a chatbot solution. Insider Intelligence predicts that spend on chatbots will balloon to $142 billion by 2024, up from $2.8 billion in 2019. If you’re in customer experience, there’s a very good chance you’re overseeing at least one customer service chatbot right now.

So there’s also a good chance that how customers perceive your chatbot might be top of mind. To that end, Simplr just released the results of a thousand-person survey which highlights consumer perceptions of chatbots across different age groups. The study finds that, while Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z have different impressions of customer service chatbots, the key to a successful chatbot experience regardless of age is the ability to seamlessly transfer to a live human.

Chatbots Need Human Backup

The report finds that when a chatbot fails to solve a customer inquiry and there is no option to transfer to a live agent, the impact is disastrous for the business: Such experiences make 60% of consumers less likely to remain a customer. However, for businesses that can get the transfer right, the results are equally impactful. A seamless transfer from bot to human results in 60% of consumers being more likely to continue to do business with the brand in the future.

Unfortunately, the current status quo with most chatbot vendors is consistently disappointing customer experiences that generate customer detractors as opposed to advocates. Our research from 2021 found that when consumers have to wait longer than 47 seconds to have their issue resolved via chat, they will rate the interaction as “poor.” Simplr’s new study reveals that consumers are willing to wait an average of 13 minutes to be transferred to a human. This means that consumers expect a time-consuming, frustrating and ultimately disappointing experience, whenever they enter a live chat.

In short: it has come to the point that consumers expect to leave interactions with your chatbot having had a poor experience.

Does that sound like something you want for your brand?

The study also revealed stark generational differences when it comes to most desirable customer service interactions — 20% of Gen Z consumers prefer to start with a chatbot, compared to only 4% of Boomers. Meanwhile, 71% of Boomers prefer to start by talking on the phone with a live agent, compared to 41% of Gen Z consumers.

Learning Opportunities

Additionally, while only 20% of consumers overall said they were pleased to see chatbots pop up on a site when they were not actively seeking help, this experience drew particular ire from Boomers — 53% of Boomer respondents indicated that uninitiated chatbots “annoyed” them, compared to only 28% of millennials and 24% of Gen Z consumers.

Related Article: How Chatbots Can Enhance Candidate and Employee Experience

How to Implement Chatbots Successfully

What do these findings mean for your chatbot implementation? From my perspective, there are two key takeaways:

  • First, customer experience leaders need to prioritize the seamless collaboration between bots and human agents. In terms of generating customer loyalty and mitigating revenue loss via customer experience, there may be no more important moment within your entire customer service program than that of the bot to human transfer. If your chatbot vendor can’t offer a superlative transfer experience for the consumer, demand better or look elsewhere.
  • Second, the study underscores the need for precise planning and thoughtful design of your chatbot experience. You need to know your audience. Brands that appeal to younger audiences can afford to be more "chatbot forward" in their customer experience approach, while those who sell to Boomers really need to make sure there is human assistance easily available.

Ultimately, customer service chatbot providers need to be as flexible and agile as possible, both to ensure that your brand’s unique customer profile is being taken into consideration and that you offer a customer support experience that solves the customer’s inquiry in the most effective way possible.

When it comes to choosing technology partners, I recommend keeping this question in mind: What happens to your customer when the bot can’t help?