Consumers Want Female and Funny – But Not Youthful – Chatbots
ST LOUIS – Sept. 12, 2017 – Customers of communications and media service providers have given their critical judgment on use of artificial intelligence (AI) for customer care and commerce, and said how they want software robots or chatbots to serve them in a new study of over 7000 consumers. As part of the study, a survey of CEOs and other senior decision makers on AI spending at the world’s biggest communications and media companies also revealed how plans for a rise of the robots for frontline customer interactions could be hampered by wrong investment choices and a lack of human talent. These are part of the findings from a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Amdocs in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Love their speed and convenience but don’t force robots on us until they’re more human and smarter, say consumers
Thirty-five percent of consumers interact with virtual agents at least once a week because its more convenient (44 percent) and quicker (41 percent), but 47 percent say this is only because they had no other option. If offered a choice, 83 percent would prefer to speak to a human since human agents better understand their needs (78 percent) and can address multiple questions at once (57 percent). Bots, say consumers, cannot deal with complex requests (their biggest problem), deliver personalized offers as well as humans (second biggest problem) or understand human emotions (third biggest problem).
Consumers also have strong views on how they want bots to look like and behave. Forty-six percent prefer their bot to look like a human, as opposed to 20 percent who want to see an avatar. Although half of consumers don’t care either way, 36 percent prefer them to be female, rather than male (14 percent). Sounding polite (1), caring (2) and intelligent (3) are by far the highest in terms of preferred bot personality traits, followed by funny (4). But, sounding posh or authoritative tie 12th with only nine percent of consumers saying they would appreciate this.
Service provider investments not focused on what’s bothering consumers
Service providers are not investing in the right areas in terms of their AI investments. Forty-two percent are prioritizing AI investment in increasing information security and privacy and 39 percent in speed of response. What customers rank as top areas for improvement such as bots delivering better personalization or more comprehensive information are lower on service providers’ priority lists with 23 and 19 percent, respectively, prioritizing these. Forty percent of service providers are also creating avatar images for their bots while consumers prefer human-like images. They are also investing in features that consumers don’t find as desirable, with nearly a quarter of service providers (24 percent) building their bots to sound posh and a fifth (21 percent) to sound authoritative. More striking, while nearly a half (42 percent) of service providers are building their bots to sound youthful, only 18 percent of consumers want to interact with a bot who sounds younger than them. The fact that 38 percent of consumers experiencing problems with today’s bot service don’t complain about it means the industry is working in the dark.
Inability to grow, not cut, human workforce is the biggest risk to AI strategies
Almost three-quarters of service provider AI decision makers say that 85 percent of customer interactions will be with software robots in five years’ time. And most of these decision makers (65 percent) fear they are lagging behind their competitors in the use of AI to improve the customer experience. To catch up, almost half (49 percent) plan to increase their AI budgets by at least six percent in the next 12 months and 87 percent intend to expand their AI workforce.
But this expansion might still not be enough. Contrary to the common perception that tomorrow’s service provider will be run more by robots than humans, only 19 percent of service providers are looking at AI to replace human customer service jobs and only 10 percent see AI as the opportunity to replace a large number of staff. Most decision makers (65 percent) actually see the lack of human skills to set up and run AI as the number one risk to delivering on their AI strategies, ahead of technology not being mature enough (42 percent). The majority (61 percent) are seeking external support, predominantly from their existing vendors as opposed to native AI solution providers (79 vs 21 percent).
“Consumers have a good sense of how bots can serve them, better-developed than perhaps the industry’s. Their level of frustration with today’s bots is striking; a third even say they will take their business elsewhere if the poor service continues,” says Gary Miles, general manager at Amdocs. “The good news is consumers actually believe that if anyone can get AI right, the communications and media industry can. And that’s ahead of banks and retailers. So AI could be a winning gambit for service providers as long as they sync up their AI investment priorities with what customers actually want.”
“The research shows, however, that service providers do not believe they will be able to achieve this on their own,” continues Miles. “Most are turning to their existing vendors and not to native AI solution providers, probably in order to ensure AI does not become another tech silo that is hard to scale and manage. Our new Smartbot solution with Microsoft announced today is an example of how Amdocs has enhanced its portfolio with unique skills and solutions to help our customers grow confidence and capabilities in this area. It provides service providers with telecom-specific AI capabilities for offering highly personalized and emotionally-aware bot interactions, which is something consumers are clearly missing in today’s bots.”
The research covered consumers and senior service provider decision makers in 12 countries across the Americas, Europe and Asia, providing a wealth of market-, gender-, age- and role-based information. An equal mix of 7,220 female and male consumers between the ages of 18 to 74 were surveyed, as well as 31 service provider executives from the world’s top communications and media service providers, nearly half (45 percent) holding C-level roles.
Amdocs is a leading software and services provider to the world’s most successful communications and media companies. As our customers reinvent themselves, we enable their digital and network transformation through innovative solutions, delivery expertise and intelligent operations. Amdocs and its 25,000 employees serve customers in over 85 countries. Listed on the NASDAQ Global Select Market, Amdocs had revenue of $3.7 billion in fiscal 2016. For more information, visit Amdocs at www.amdocs.com.
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