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GUEST BLOG: Chatbots can’t chat, Humans can…

Chatbots are no longer the stuff of trend forecasts. They’re here, and they’re on the rise. But let’s not forget the impact of unscripted human interactions. If people and chatbots work hand-in-hand, valuable, irreplicable, genuine moments – the kind that put smiles on faces and build genuine brand loyalty – won’t be lost.


Where are chatbots at right now?

We all know we’re living in a moment in which we’re radically redefining our relationship to computers. Chatbots are amongst us, and more and more brands are adopting them by the day, often with mixed results. Increasingly, when it comes to commerce, people’s interactions will be with technology over humans.

But how smart are chatbots right now? Not very, to be blunt. There’s still a lot they can’t, and won’t, do. You’ve probably had fun trying to flumox Siri, and quickly found her limits. Whilst she’s friendly enough, a robotic voice and vocabulary lacks the richness of human-to-human speech. ‘Chat’ is a very human term and language is complex, so the realities of the technology and experience haven’t caught up with the vision yet. Proving just that, recent research shows that 70% of Facebook’s chatbots failed. Remember the frustrating days of early smartphones when our handsets promised so much but only delivered on the basics? That’s where we’re at with these beasts. Very few are likely to pass the Turing test.

How can humans lend a hand?

There’s another big trend that can’t be missed – a fascination with empathy, and the need for a “humans first” approach to new technologies. Computers are helping us to do more than ever before, but there are so many challenges and moments only people can rise to right now. Our task for the next while is to slow down a little, be patient with chatbots, team up with them, and most importantly, nurture them as they grow.

As humans, we have an enduring USP: we’re the ultimate judges of context. Computers just aren’t there yet. They may be able to detect emotions we didn’t even know we had, but only people can truly assess the subtle contexts of those, and make a solid call on how to respond.

What will success look like?

Humans need to act as the guardians of context, choosing when and where chatbots are deployed. Computers shouldn’t be used to replace human-to-human conversations. They should be used to drive concrete end results in the right moments, where there’s a key, discrete need that a computer can meet. That might be finding an FAQ a customer was searching for, or guiding them through a simple sign-up process. The aim will be for them to complete their tasks fast.

We often measure the impact of a brand’s social media activities on the number and depth of interactions – the more, the better. With chatbots, fewer, faster interactions will be markers of success. Time saved is one of the ultimate gifts we can give. It means customers can enjoy more authentic, human moments with the people that matter most to them. Here’s how Dom, our CEO, puts it: “It’s about delivering something of genuine use: technology needs to be an enabler. It’s got to be about the end user, otherwise there’s no point.” Chatbots aren’t trying to make connections or drive conversations, but brands should remember just how important those activities are, especially now, with the ever-increasing plethora of touchpoints in the digital world. The human factor mustn’t be lost.

What’s the key to getting it right?

Context, context, context. We’ll say it again: context. It’s humans’ super power. When chatbots take care of simpler tasks, customer service and engagement professionals have more time to invest in valuable human-to-human interactions. Again, in the right moments. That might mean stepping in and helping someone choose the right service or product for them, or simply listening to their needs and lending an empathetic ear.

It’s worth remembering that context is always shape-shifting and on the move. It’s not a case of using chatbots for a prescribed set of tasks and humans for another. In today’s world, there’s a need to be constantly reactive, moment by moment. As marketers, we’ll need to track contexts as they shift, and be aware that they can do so by the second. With the introduction of just one new question, a human-to-chatbot conversation can transform into one that demands to be human-to-human. That’s exactly when a real, living, breathing person should step in, and go off script. That’s how we’ll truly meet customers’ needs. And, what’s more, it’s pleasurable, surprising, and generates ongoing trust. That trust drives sales, and fosters brand loyalty.

What’s another way of saying ‘context’? Relevancy. As Dom has it: “We’re here to be relevant and useful, and humans do that better than anything. People make connections better than anything too. People and connections are what’s always made social work, and they’re what will continue to make it work.”

We humans are irreplaceable

As chatbots evolve, let’s concentrate on laying the ground for meaningful moments in which computers and humans work together, deftly swapping places at the right instant, for all the right reasons. Call it teamwork. It all comes back to making time and space for those all-important human touch points, not trying to emulate or replace them. Each of us knows the intangible power of a smile, a knowing wink, or a good chat.

Kelda Wallis, Marketing Manager, icuc.social UK

Since 2002, icuc.social has managed, moderated, monitored and created millions of social media conversations, images and videos inside some of the largest online communities in the world. icuc.social is a Dentsu Aegis Network company, the 3rd largest marketing network in the world with 23,000 employees across 110 countries.