What Do Your Customers Actually Think About Chatbots?

Chatbots today are what mobile apps were in 2012. Every business wants one. But what do consumers actually think of them?

That’s what we were wondering here at Userlike. We found studies on chatbot perceptions, but we weren’t convinced of their reliability. Most were published by companies with a clear interest in proving the benefit of chatbots, like chatbot building platforms.

outline of Switzerland with Userlike logo on top

At Userlike, we don’t have such a vested interest. We provide live chat software for human support teams, and we offer a chatbot API for our customers to connect their sophisticated bot to.

Bots aren’t our main shebang, so in a sense we’re Switzerland; neutral, but curious about the fuss surrounding chatbots to see whether this is an area we should develop further in.

The goal was to learn if respondents had used a chatbot before, how they felt about the experience, and the pros and cons of chatbot use. We also dug deeper to find out how the consumer views a company that employs a chatbot and in which situations a chatbot is helpful. Some answers were expected, but others were just plain surprising. We’re excited to share our findings with you.

Continue reading for the full results.

1
80% of respondents have interacted with a chatbot before

Out of 415 respondents, 333 answered “yes” when asked if they had ever chatted with a chatbot before. Just over 75% of those who responded that they’d never chatted with a chatbot are over the age of 45.

graph showing that 80 percent of respondents have chatted with a chatbot

This didn’t come as a great surprise since other studies have shown that younger generations are more open to using new technology. Chances are high that Gen Z and Millennials are willing and likely to try out your chatbot.

bar graph showing that most people ages 45 to 59 have never chatted with a chatbot

2
Most respondents prefer waiting for an agent, but are open to chatting with a chatbot first

At least 60% of respondents answered that they would prefer to wait in a queue to talk to a human agent.

graph showing that most respondents prefer to wait in a queue for a human agent

However, if given the option, more than half of respondents also said that they would be willing to talk to a chatbot initially in order to be transferred to an agent.

bar graph showing that respondents would talk to a chatbot first

We also asked respondents to rate the most important things companies get right when using chatbots, and 77% chose being given the option to escalate to a human agent as a top answer. At least 61% of respondents also said that they’d personally use a chatbot to find a human agent.

Our theory, based on years of research for our chatbot posts , is that people are used to phone trees that can help with basic account management and expect a chatbot to have those same limitations. Many of today’s chatbots are button-based, which already scream “I’m limited in how I can help you.”

3
Respondents like how quickly chatbots respond

When asked to choose the most positive aspects of chatting with a chatbot, this was the most popular answer out of all the options at 68%.

bar graph showing that a chatbot's response speed is its highest rated positive aspect

Respondents also appreciate that chatbots can help outside of service hours and forward messages to an agent.

4
Chatbots are fast and convenient, but have their limits

Respondents like that chatbots are immediately available and respond quickly, but most people said that chatbots had too much trouble understanding their request or didn’t know how to resolve their issue.

bar graph showing that the most negative chatbot trait is its inability to understand requests

Expecting customers to follow your ideal conversational flow is one of five common chatbot fails. It can result in conversational dead ends or confuse the chatbot, especially if customers are unclear or explain their issue in a way that is too detailed for the chatbot to understand.

According to one of the respondents: “I've experienced very broken chatbots. There should be adequate testing for the bot before it’s used to help people who are already having difficulties and end up dealing with a chatbot that only makes matters worse.”

5
Respondents trust chatbots with basic requests

Respondents are willing to chat with a bot for simple inquiries (product specifications, order status, shipping policies). However, this begs the question: How much do people trust chatbots?

At least 54% of respondents would use a chatbot to ask about a product and 30% would use it to pay a bill. Only 23% of respondents are willing to settle disputes through bots.

bar graph showing they trust chatbots most with simple requests

One respondent said: “I think they’re great if they can successfully help you solve your problem. They are helpful for processing returns.”

Perhaps if most chatbot’s artificial intelligence were at the same level of the nine best chatbots of 2020 , then people’s overall perceptions would change. Yet this takes time, money and dedication.

6
Chatbots should never pretend to be human

More than half of our respondents (54%) want chatbots to make it clear that they’re a bot, which is completely fair. Bots should avoid entering the uncanny valley ; it’s deceptive and downright creepy.

7
Few respondents think a company shouldn’t use a chatbot

Only 9% of respondents answered that a company shouldn’t use a chatbot.

bar graph showing that few respondents think a company shouldn't use a chatbot

Also, on a scale of 1-5, most respondents selected one or three when asked if they consider chatbots innovative. This could suggest that consumers accept chatbots as the new norm that do have value and are welcome to stay.

Our methodology

Our results come from a mixture of surveys we created on online survey platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and SurveyMonkey . A total of 415 people were surveyed.

Respondents were paid for their time but we represented ourselves neutrally and without incentive for people to answer in any specific way.

Demographics

The survey was 10 questions long and devoid of any confusing technical jargon to make it appropriate for everyone. We learned that most respondents identify as female and are between the ages of 30-44.

pie graph showing that most respondents identify as female
pie graph showing that most respondents are between the ages of 30-44

Not many people 6o years and older responded to the survey, which could be for a variety of reasons. There may not be many older survey takers, especially on the platforms we used. People aged 55+ are also less likely to use software like live chat , which may mirror chatbot usage.

Final thoughts on consumer’s chatbot perceptions

Though consumers say that they prefer waiting to speak with an agent, chatbots can still help reduce service costs by 30%. Their fast response times and ability to resolve simple requests are still distinct benefits that work. Chatbots can’t replace human agents , but they certainly do take a load off of them.

As mentioned before, perhaps a more widespread use of advanced AI and deep learning could improve consumer’s perceptions of chatbots.

One respondent even said: “IT departments have a lo-o-ong way to go before they develop a chatbot that can capably handle the nuances of language and complex questions, which are challenging even for a human service person.”

But of course, advanced AI comes at a price. The survey showed us that customers accept chatbots as a support channel, but if more companies put more care into their chatbot UI , then its usability and overall reputation could be improved.

For more chatbot help and resources, check out our “Ultimate Guide to Chatbots in Business.”