You send a message asking for information. The response is friendly, polite, and sometimes even playful.

“What a cool company,” you think.

The speed is uncanny. The first answer is clear. Then it dawns on you. You’re speaking to a computer. Artificial intelligence, once a thing of sci-fi movies, is here and it’s not going away.

Are we headed towards AI taking over everything? Was the Terminator movie pure fantasy or a foreboding warning of our own future? One thing’s for sure — we’re going to find out soon.

The effectiveness of the Chatbot

As a business owner, automating manual tasks is nearly always a path to increased profits. Why pay an employee $15 per hour to answer the same question over and over again, when artificial intelligence can detect those questions and turn it into an automated conversation?

According to Chatbots Magazine, businesses can reduce customer service costs up to 30% by implementing conversational solutions using chatbots.

Any business owner or CIO presenting this idea to their board will be bolstered by hundreds of statistics that this technology will be a big win all around. Chatbots Magazine also uncovered:

  • Chatbots are projected to reduce customer service costs by up to $8 billion by 2022.
  • 43% of people who use digital banking prefer using chatbots to address their problems.
  • 40% of people 18-34 (millennials) chat with bots on a daily basis.

There’s no question that a rapid answer is better than a slow one. Our entire “microwave” culture not only expects speed, but rewards it. Gone are the days of ordering from a catalog and waiting 3-4 weeks for shipping and handling. For Amazon Prime members, if it doesn’t arrive within a day, we’re checking with Amazon shipping (which, of course, starts off with a chatbot.)

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In addition to speed, customers likely all have the same question. Why waste good grey matter on a topic that is already in the FAQ?

Death of the FAQ

Not everyone likes searching, scrolling or combing for data on an FAQ page. We prefer personalization and speed. A chatbot is designed to do both, but as we’ll see in a moment, fails miserably in one of those areas.

Small businesses, who need a 24/7 method to engage with their prospects and customers, are installing extremely inexpensive chatbots to field customer service calls.

Large businesses, like IBM, Zoom, and Facebook, are loving their digital minions. Facebook, of course, has invested millions in chatbot technology into their messenger platform for their users, which is ideally suited both psychologically and functionally for chatbot applications.

Chatbots are growing in popularity and with enthusiastic acceptance. Most companies are embracing them like a warm blanket. People with gray hair may not fully understand the idea of replacing a live human voice with an instant autoresponder that is trying to make you believe it has a personality.

Your kids, however, not only do they get it… they prefer it to a human.

The millennial takeover

In a survey about mobile device users, 75% of Millennials would rather lose their ability to talk vs. text.

The reasons? Millennials concentrate their culture to and through the device. Texting is less disruptive, more convenient, and therefore, preferred.

While this sounds attractive to CFOs and shareholders alike, there is a hidden danger. This danger is not one where the “Skynet” bot launches WWIII. Rather, the real misfire is expecting a single piece of technology to solve a myriad of issues across a wide range of generational preferences.

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For baby boomers, a standalone chatbot is rarely the fast and easy way to serve needs and retain clients. These customers want less separation and more closeness. The more we remove humanity from our interactions, the less connected we feel. The less personal our interaction is, the weaker the connection. Chatbots remove the “person” in “personalization.”

For a growing number of nonmillennials, a chatbot increases the distance between your company’s solution and a customer’s loyalty.

Don’t split the difference

Does the same bot for marketing inquiries have the same function as customer service? Can a bot effectively cross-sell a new product in a customer service environment? A blend of automation and human interaction may work best.

Taking a close look at your processes and interactions can reveal where a bot can work and where it won’t. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the efficiencies of a chatbot. It only means you may need to design a customized solution with humans and technology working togeher.

An ideal sales screening process could start with a simple blend that allows you to field the easy answers automatically for capturing a lead. If the engagement stalls, move them immediately to a human. You are less likely to lose clients and you’ll build better brand value at the same time.

For common customer service questions, turn on the bot. But, as soon as a question confuses the bot, your system could immediately connect your customer to your CSR team. Companies like Amazon do this quite well.

A bold move would be to simply ask the customer in advance what they would prefer. Imagine a site where the chatbot gives you a choice? Many companies already do this with their call center operations.

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If you’re 28, you’ll likely prefer not speaking to a human being. If you are over 50, chances are you would be willing to wait a bit to speak with that nice person on the phone.

If you are excited about AI and chatbots in particular, you are not alone. Find one that suits your needs and customize the process to your customers’ and prospects’ demographics.

Like the lessons learned in “The Terminator”, it is unwise to rely solely on automation. Those scenarios rarely end well.