It’s no surprise that digital self-service channels have experienced increased use over the past couple of years. As with many technologies, the pandemic has accelerated a number of trends that were already steadily rising, especially those involved in digital engagement.

The bigger question with this increased digital engagement, however, is how user behavior and expectations have also evolved. It’s not simply the adoption and use of conversational AI-powered solutions that matters, but how consumers are using them. With such a rapid transition, businesses must adjust rapidly to meet their customers where they are: what new channels are they adopting, what use cases are best served by conversational AI, and how comfortable are consumers with utilizing the technology?

At Verint, we wanted to understand these evolving behaviors and use of conversational AI-enabled interfaces in this uniquely changing time for the technology. To truly get to know today’s chatbot and intelligent assistant user, we conducted our “Conversational AI Barometer: Chatbots and Next-Gen AI” report.

What We Wanted to Know

In the fall of 2021, Verint created a survey that a third-party research firm then deployed. The survey was completed by 1,000 people in the U.S. ranging from age 18 to 65. The questions included various formats, including multiple choice and ranked choice.

We wanted to know how and where people are using conversational AI-enabled technologies, especially chatbots and IVAs—and what industries and use cases they were using them for. But we also wanted to dig deeper and gauge our respondents’ attitudes toward chatbots.

That’s why we included queries such as “How useful are chatbots?” “What information do you feel comfortable providing to a chatbot?” and “Through which interface do you prefer to interact with chatbots?”

Among the areas we most interested in evaluating among consumers were the type and frequency of usage of chatbots; their conversational interface preference; their likes and dislikes with both voice and text-based chat; user’s perceived relatability to the chatbots with which they were interacting; and their overall sentiment and comfortability with using the technology.

What We Learned

As we note in the report, the survey uncovered a number of key findings that come together to provide a solid snapshot of how digital consumers are using chatbots today, how much they trust them, and what they want from the technology. The report also revealed some interesting trends capturing how consumer behavior and expectations are evolving.

Chatbots are considered as a widely accepted tool among consumers today, with 56.5% of respondents reporting finding chatbots as “very” or “somewhat” useful. Only about 9% of respondents said they would never use a chatbot.

More importantly, the report shows that true adoption comes with use. In the survey, people who say they used chatbots the most were the ones who’d been using them the longest and with the most frequency. That’s not necessarily surprising, but getting users to that point from use to adoption is more challenging. The report revealed that negative experiences with outdated or poorly deployed chatbots will hurt overall adoption rates. In essence, if customers aren’t initially fans of chatbot implementation, they may be in the future with continuous improvement and expansion of the IVAs knowledge and capabilities. Companies need to provide a high-quality experience with their conversational AI solutions, and those expectations of quality are only increasing.

Learning Opportunities

The results also highlight a distinct opportunity for companies to embrace AI natives. More than 50% of respondents aged 18-34 reported interacting with chatbots on at least a monthly basis. This age group, which we’ve dubbed AI Natives, has been using conversational AI solutions for most, if not all, of their adult lives, and are trusting of the technology. This is a quickly growing segment of the consumer base, and companies should be ready to meet these younger audiences and be prepared with the solutions that can meet their increased expectations.

The opportunity doesn’t rest solely with emerging generations, though. We saw some industry segments that respondents said they didn’t frequently engage with through chatbots, for a variety of interesting reasons ranging from trust to security to industry expectations. However, we see these industries as places where today’s advanced conversational AI can meet customers' expectations and build trust for increased adoption.

Consumers generally have similar preferences for which conversational interfaces they preferacross industries, with a primary preference towards interacting with chatbots via desktop orlaptop. However, there are certain areas where there’s a stark difference in interface preference. For financial services, consumers prefer to interact with chatbots via mobile apps at a rate of 51.3%, more than any other industry. They also prefer to interact with chatbots via phone channel the least in financial services and travel.

These differences may be due to a variety of reasons — those industries tend to offer moredigital support with more built-out mobile apps. They’re also often associated with poor phone experience. Either way, it continues to prove that business leaders need to focus on delivering a superior customer experience across channels, especially as consumer preferences continue to shift.

Businesses need to move quickly if they haven’t already invested in chatbots for the most popular use-cases among consumers. Not only is there already a solid foundation of trust in these areas, they often don’t require human intervention or involve sensitive information. For example, chatbots and IVAs are increasingly effective in key areas that require 24/7 assistance and quick responses like healthcare, especially when it comes to increasing patient adherence. Medication management is an important use case that can save money, time, and most importantly, improve patient lives. Furthermore, in use-cases where consumers prefer human assistance the most, it’s important for business leaders to find creative yet cost-effective solutions to keep humans in the loop.

Just as the past few years have dramatically changed consumer behavior and expectations, businesses will need to quickly adjust to meet them. Conversational AI should already be a necessary part of every company's digital strategy, but understanding how to make those digital experiences truly exceptional and to meet their customers where they are today is as complicated as it is imperative.

You can read the full Conversational AI Barometer: Chatbots and Next-Gen AI report from Verint right here.