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Study: People Dislike Chatbots, But Forgive Them More Often When Something Goes Wrong

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jul 20, 2021
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A recent study has found that, in general, people really don't like it when a bot is sent to do a human customer service representative's job, Fast Company reported. Researchers at the University of Göttingen ran two experiments, each with 200 participants. Subjects were put into a scenario where they had to contact their energy provider via online chat to update their address on their electricity contract following a move. In the chat, they encountered a chatbot, but only half of them were informed that they were chatting online with a non-human contact.

Researchers measured the impact of making this disclosure in terms of both how important the customer felt and whether the chatbot was able to resolve the query. What they found was that, if service issues are perceived as particularly important or critical, there is a negative reaction when it is revealed that the conversation partner is a chatbot. This scenario weakens customer trust. The results align with previous literature showing that people generally dislike interacting with bots in a customer service role. 

What they also found, though, was that when their issues could not be resolved, subjects were actually more relieved that their conversation partner was a bot versus a person. This seems to mainly be for the same reason people generally dislike dealing with chatbots: we perceive them as less competent than a human. 

"If their issue isn't resolved, disclosing that they were talking with a chatbot, makes it easier for the consumer to understand the root cause of the error," said lead author Nika Mozafari of the University of Göttingen. "A chatbot is more likely to be forgiven for making a mistake than a human." In this scenario, customer loyalty can even improve.