Chatbots are a hot new trend that is over 50 years in the making but are they really the superpowered marketing tool that your agency needs to stay competitive in the coming year? We’re not convinced. Here’s why.

Doesn’t it seem that when it comes to marketing, there is always some shiny new thing being heralded as the unquestionable key to keeping up with the competition and growing your agency? Five minutes ago it was apps. Everyone rushed to build their own custom app for their business only to find out that most people spend all their screen time in just five favorite apps. And those coveted five spots? They’re dominated by social media and entertainment giants. So apps are out. Bots are in.

But what is a chatbot anyway?

Put simply, a chatbot is a computer program that automates specific tasks by interacting with humans through a conversational interface. If you’ve ever found yourself shouting, “Hey, Siri!” “Okay, Google!” or “Alexa!” you have interacted with a chatbot. Yet even with their flaws, these three heavy hitters dramatically outclass the average rule-based bots that you’re likely to encounter on websites or in messenger applications.

Rule-based bots follow a set of ordered if-then statements that deliver canned responses to customer queries. They are not powered by any form of artificial intelligence. And, various bot-building platforms make them deceptively simple to set up without any knowledge of programming.

At surface level, the idea seems sound. Perhaps a customer comes to your website outside of normal business hours. A bot is there to greet them and offer pre-scripted answers to any number of frequently asked questions. Or, you could set up your bot to ask a series of questions designed to assess your customers’ needs before routing them to the correct team within your agency. That sounds convenient for you and your clients, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not.

It’s not enough to make it fast. You also have to make it count.

While there is no denying that instant communications are increasingly necessary for meeting customer expectations in today’s always-on world, the question is, are chatbots really up to the task?

71% of consumers report the chatbot they interacted with could not answer their question or help them.

—According to a study by 3C Interactive

Recent research reveals that 71% of consumers report the chatbot they interacted with could not answer their question or help them. We are willing to bet that a human customer service representative with such a high fail rate wouldn’t last long at your agency. Your customers would not accept such poor service and neither would you. And interestingly, people generally have a lower tolerance for machines that make mistakes. So what happens if you appoint a bot to the vanguard of your go-to-market? Will your prospects be impressed by your digital prowess?

Back in the 90’s, the world was dazzled as the information age exploded before our eyes. Suddenly we had the ability to easily and cheaply connect with people across the globe. For the first time, consumers turned to the internet to find answers. The ability to shoot an email to your favorite brands and receive a quick reply was a welcome relief from wading through elaborate phone menus or enduring endless hold times.

But with 2020 visible on the horizon, we don’t feel the same thrill we once did over playing a morning game of checkers with an opponent an ocean away or learning everything we could possibly want to know about the behaviors of three-toed sloths without so much as touching an encyclopedia. (When is the last time you even thought about an encyclopedia?) Now, having instant access to infinite information and choice is not exciting, it’s expected.

Your agency might be new to the instant communications game, but your clients are not.

Today’s consumers are digital natives who are quite accustomed to using instant communication technologies such as text and instant messaging in their personal lives, every day. They won’t be wowed by how quickly your chatbot rushes to say, “Hello. How can I help you?” What will impress them is how readily you can provide customer service that actually solves their problems and delivers the answers they’re looking for. While chatbots can certainly provide a scalable way to interact with customers on your website, if they cannot provide accurate, helpful information to your customers when they need it, they’re hurting—not helping.

80% of consumers say they’ve stopped doing business with a company because of a poor experience.

—According to research by HubSpot

With so much choice just a click away, consumers hold more power than ever. They’re motivated to do business with brands they can relate to, brands they feel they can trust. Authenticity, transparency and a sense of personal connection inform the many micro-decisions people make throughout the customer journey. This is a landscape where an independent agent can thrive because personal connection has always been a key component in what you do. Technology can and should facilitate relationship building with new and existing clients. But done wrong, bad tech can break the fragile trust you’re working so hard to build.

Placing a pre-scripted chatbot at your virtual doorway has the potential to repel would-be customers from the very first hello. A bot that doesn’t immediately identify itself as a bot will be seen by many as deceptive. A bot that takes the customer through a series of forced-choice questions that do not accurately represent their needs or viewpoint may come off as manipulative. Even worse, many chatbots are unable to track customer responses beyond three questions deep, leading to circular conversations that ultimately have to be handled by a human anyway.

This kind of technical runaround is very damaging when you consider how much customers dislike being placed on hold or being forced to repeat information to multiple customer service representatives.

Two thirds of consumers report being frustrated by having to explain the same information multiple times.

—According to research by HubSpot
It still takes a human to provide human connection.

Sure, chatbots can be cute, friendly or funny. A clever bot might say something like, “Hi there! My name is Cogs. My humans have gone home for the night but you can ask me questions and I’ll let them know you dropped by.” But even with recent advancements in the development of artificial intelligence, we have yet to create a chatbot that can deliver the kind of multi-layered, dynamic conversations unique to human beings. And when it comes down to it, no amount of scripted, witty banter or clever dialogue can take the place of actual service.

Ideally, a customer who visits your website should be able to connect right away with the right team of people who can provide accurate information and helpful solutions—without forcing them to jump through a bunch of digital hoops first.

86% Of Consumers Prefer Humans To Chatbots.

—According to a 2019 CGS Customer Service Chatbots & Channels Survey

The technology behind chatbots is arguably in its infancy. Who knows where it could ultimately take us. But in the meantime, it is important to keep in mind that your clients only have one fluid and evolving relationship with your agency. If your chatbot lets them down, it doesn’t hurt their relationship with the bot. It hurts their relationship with you.

While we’re not on board with the bot craze, if you’re curious to know what technology trends we are excited about, be sure to grab the free download below!

3 Tech Trends You Simply Can’t Ignore in 2020

Wondering which digital tools are right for your agency? Check out this free download about a few of our top picks.