'Sorry, I don’t understand that' – the trouble with chatbots and how to use them better - Deepstash
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The Trouble With Chatbots

Interactions with chatbots have become increasingly common in our daily lives. But when asking for information or trying to solve a problem, we’re often annoyed when the chatbot either can’t understand or misinterprets our inquiry.

Even worse is when it advises us to contact the call centre or visit a web page, which defeats the purpose of using chatbots in the first place.


25 reads

The Two Factors

There are two main reasons for negative user experiences.

  • Organisations often present the chatbot as too “human”, leading to unrealistic expectations about the chatbot’s ability to understand human language.
  • Many chatbots are rule-based and have a narrow knowledge base, which means grammatical and syntactical errors can throw them off and complex questions often can’t be answered, disappointing customers.


28 reads

Two Hands To Clap

Although it’s easy to blame the chatbot for a miserable experience, we need to realise that, just as it takes two hands to clap, it takes both chatbot and customer to create a satisfactory interaction.

While previous studies have focused mainly on the chatbot, including why companies implement them and the design cues that characterise them, there hasn’t been much consideration of the customer’s role in these interactions.


22 reads

Understanding Chatbots

We find that to create constructive, meaningful engagement with a chatbot, the actions and reactions of the customer and a willingness to make it work are as important as the chatbot’s own functionality.

We identified six distinct types of human-chatbot interactions: socialising, collaborating, challenging, accommodating, committing, and redirecting.

These vary depending on who is driving the conversation (the chatbot or the customer), how “real” they perceive each other to be, their social cues, and the customer’s effort.


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Meaningful Interactions With A Non-Human

Collaborating interactions are those conversations where both the chatbot and the customer work together on the customer’s needs, such as booking a flight or understanding the root cause of a problem and identifying solutions.

Both socialising and collaborating interactions involve smooth exchanges between the chatbot and customer and mostly lead to positive outcomes.


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Off Topic Questions

Accommodating interactions are ones where the customer is in the driver’s seat, helping the chatbot understand their needs by changing the way they phrase the question or statement, repeating their request or clarifying their intent.

People see the novelty of chatbots as an open invitation to challenge them and see when it breaks. This type of interaction usually leads nowhere, since most chatbots aren’t trained for off-topic questions such as “do you want to marry me?” or “what is the meaning of life?”.


14 reads

Three Keys To Success

Based on our research, we provide three tips for your next encounter with a chatbot:

  • Remember that a chatbot is not human and many chatbots can’t understand nuanced natural language, so try not to use complex sentences or provide too much information at once
  • Don’t give up too quickly – if the chatbot doesn’t understand your question or request the first time, try to use keywords, menu buttons (if available) or short sentences
  • Give it a second chance – chatbots acquire new “skills” over time, so it might now be able to solve a problem or answer a question it couldn’t two months ago.


16 reads

Organisational tips

  • Reimagine a customer service team – involve people in the redesign of customer service delivery through a mix of chatbots and actual employees
  • Treat chatbots like a new (digital) employee – spend time and effort extending their skills
  • Find the sweet spot for escalating an enquiry to a contact centre employee – some chatbots refer People too early (causing congestion), while others offer the option frustratingly late. Experiment to find the right timing
  • Monitor the chat interactions – learn how and what questions customers ask and extend your chatbot’s knowledge base accordingly.


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