Chatbots are getting a lot of attention in retail these days. At the NRF Big Show in January, several vendors, startups and established alike, featured chatbots in their booths at the show. They could do everything from interact with you about new products and what you liked about them, to help you figure out the opening hours of your local store.
You can via a chatbot on Facebook Messenger, and several retailers are around common customer service inquiries such as “What should I buy?” With a little rigging, you can set up Alexa to order your favorite drink for you at Starbucks. And yes, I count Alexa as a chatbot: a natural language interface, whether text or voice, and some artificial intelligence and a of computing power behind it to identify the most likely “best” response in an interaction.
I get it. I do. There are a lot of questions that consumers ask, like “What time does your store open?” that rudimentary natural language processing should be able to handle. It would satisfy both the customer and the retailer – the customer, who gets an answer quickly and simply, and the retailer, who doesn’t have to have someone available to answer that same question over and over again day in and day out. Everyone wins.
But there are three things that retailers need to watch out for when using chatbots, or they will find themselves in dangerous territory.
Retailers need to let consumers know they are talking to a bot and not try to pass it off as a real human being. It’s okay to personify it – Mall of America called theirs “ELF” this holiday season. But don’t pretend to consumers that there is a human on the other end of the chat.
This is especially important if the conversation goes south. It’s not really a coincidence that most of the chatbots implemented in 2016 were focused on service for the front end of the customer experience – for helping them select products versus finding their stuff. When customers contact retailers because they have a problem, they want to know that someone is listening to their problem and is there to help them. When they feel they’re being ignored or misunderstood, they get frustrated.
User experience companies have a term for how that frustration translates when consumers are interacting with e-commerce sites: “,”when a user clicks a button over and over and over again because they’re mad that they’re not getting the response they expected.
If a retailer passes off a chatbot as a real person, and the consumer figures out that it’s not, it could easily lead to either the chatbot equivalent of rage clicking, or where consumers deliberately mess with the…