Consumers ‘prefer chatbots to humans’

The Capgemini Research Institute has found that consumers increasingly prefer to interact with robots rather than humans, especially when it comes to researching products, learning about new services or following up on post-purchase customer service queries.

It surveyed over 12,000 consumers who use voice/chat assistants and 1,000 business executives - from companies covering consumer products and retail, retail banking and insurance, and automotive - finding that nearly 70 per cent of consumers think they will progressively replace visits to a store or bank with their voice assistant within three years’ time.

The study also demonstrated the pace of change over the last 12 to 24 months, with 40 per cent of those now using voice assistants have started doing so in the last year.

Over three quarters of businesses (76 per cent) said they have realised quantifiable benefits from voice or chat assistant initiatives, with 58 per cent stating that those benefits had met or exceeded their expectations. Benefits included a more than 20 per cent reduction in customer service cost, and a more than 20 per cent increase of consumers using digital assistants.

However, while the business and user advantages are widely understood, the report found that actual roll out is lagging behind enthusiasm and demand. Fewer than half of the top 100 players in automotive, consumer products and retail, banking and insurance have voice assistants.

Comparison from 2017 - when Capgemini carried out its first study into voice assistants - to 2019 showed an increase in their use by existing consumers for various purposes, including buying products like groceries or home care (an increase from 35 per cent to 53 per cent), customer service interactions post purchase (up from 37 per cent to 52 per cent), and making payments for products or services (up from 28 per cent to 48 per cent).

The report also found that consumers have increasingly praised the ability of conversational assistants to provide a better experience. In 2017, 61 per cent of consumers expressed their satisfaction in using a voice-based personal assistant like Google Assistant or Siri on their smartphones; this number rose to 72 per cent in 2019.

In 2017, 46 per cent of consumers were satisfied with using a voice-based speaker device like Google Home or Amazon Echo, and 44 per cent with a voice and screen-based voice assistant like Amazon Echo Show and Amazon Fire TV; these numbers rose to 64 per cent and 57 per cent in 2019.

Mark Taylor, head of customer engagement at Capgemini Invent, noted that privacy and security still remain paramount. “Since our last research, it seems there has been little change in consumer concerns about how voice assistants affect privacy and data security – companies must do more to address both these concerns and consumers’ increasing expectations, as conversational commerce increasingly moves into the mainstream.”

Stan Sthanunathan, executive vice president at Unilever, commented that the biggest experience his company has had is to not look at conversational interfaces as a cure for all the problems you have, but instead to use them to augment human intelligence.

“Voice or chat bots can communicate with multiple people simultaneously, they therefore help in reducing the amount of stress and strain on our human agents who are responding; these interfaces eliminate anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent of issues reaching the human agents because they are answered then and there.”

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