When to chatbot, and when to chatnot

There’s been a phenomenal rise in companies making use of chatbots over the last few years.  And it’s no surprise, as they can save the business a huge amount of money by reducing the customer service workforce (by up to 30% according to Chatbots Magazine), among other benefits (like being available 24/7).  After all, why pay your employees to answer all those ‘frequently asked questions’ day in, day out, when a chatbot can do this perfectly well, for way less than the minimum wage!

BUT…. there’s a hidden danger that companies can put too many expectations on artificial intelligence being able to solve all their staffing issues, financial issues, or operational issues, simply by adding a chatbot and hoping for the best.  Unfortunately, chatbots are not (always) miracle workers, and are not always the answer to a problem.  And sometimes, a badly thought out chatbot can be really damaging to a company’s reputation if it’s not helping the customers in the way it was expected to.  You don’t want your customers to be left thinking, ‘Is that it, you’ve not helped me in the slightest’. 


So, it’s good to be reminded what chatbots are designed for and what they’re not designed for. 

Chatbots work well for:

  • Handling specific tasks – like directing customers to a specific team within the company or being a shop assistant.  Your chatbot will perform better when it’s been trained specifically on dealing with such tasks.
  • Resolving simple, repetitive, tedious routine tasks – like password resets, collecting new contact details.  Again, this specific training on handling such routine tasks will ensure an efficient and well-performing chatbot, with minimal risk of errors.
  • Customer support availability 24/7 – it’s not always possible to have your team available around the clock, but a chatbot can be!  Having a chatbot handling simple queries, or even collecting contact details that can be passed to the support team to deal with is a great alternative to the ‘Sorry, we’re closed/unavailable/busy’ response.
  • As a first line of response to your customer request – a quick and efficient way to collect details of the request which can then be transferred to a human to deal with, providing a good service to your customer.

Chatbots don’t work well for:

  • Complex issues and long detailed conversations – it would be virtually impossible to build a chatbot that can comprehend such issues, and these are best left to a human.   And chatbots will almost always struggle with understanding an utterance that is very long, chatty and contains lots of information, some of which will probably be irrelevant.
  • Completely replacing your customer service team – there will almost certainly be circumstances where a chatbot will have to hand over to a human to provide a service that the chatbot cannot handle, for example a serious complaint.  The human touch is irreplaceable, and compassion is crucial to calm down an angry customer, something which a chatbot will undoubtedly fail to do.  This ‘human-in-the-loop’ service must be integrated to provide a harmonious user experience.
  • Completely replacing your current customer service features (like community site etc) – these will still be needed and will always be appreciated by your customers.

So, although you might think that chatbots could provide the solution to all your problems, it’s worth carefully considering if it’s the right thing to do for your particular set of requirements.  Chatbots will never fully replace humans, they will only ever be designed to compliment a service provided to your customers.  A chatbot used in inappropriate circumstances will always fall short as it cannot handle the type of tricky challenges that a human can.


Alison Houston

Alison is our Data Model Analyst and builds and trains chatbot models for clients. She also provides advice and troubleshooting support for clients who are struggling with the performance of their own chatbots.

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