Why We Prefer People Over Chatbots

It's the human connection

Key Takeaways

  • Studies show that chatbot usage is on the rise, but security concerns remain.
  • There are limits to what a chatbot is able to answer. 
  • New technology will make chatbots smarter, but not everyone wants their questions answered by a computer.
A person typing on a laptop at the kitchen table in their home.
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Chatbots can be great for answering simple questions, but for complex enquiries when you really want help finding or understanding something, not every customer wants to talk to an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven messenger. 

In a recent study from marketing analyst Drift Insider, looking at how consumers interact with businesses, brands using chatbots rose from 13% in 2019 to 25% in 2020. For some, however, chatbots cause more problems than they solve. In this age where personalization is everything, a majority of American consumers (83%) say they still want to interact with a real person even as technology improves, according to PWC.  

"As a customer do I really want to chat with a bot? No. If I have questions, I want to talk to a live person either on the phone or in a chat window that many companies provide," Gene Mal, chief technology officer of Static Jobs, said in an email to Lifewire.

"I definitely don’t want to waste my time on a chatbot, and seeing a chatbot on a website will just tell me that the company doesn’t appreciate me as a customer." 

Not a One Size Fits All 

You may find that not every chatbot is equal. Some are simple with a limited number of responses for customers to choose from, others are AI-driven chatbots that can read customer queries through natural language processing. 

"In a world where everything is becoming more digitized, it’s no surprise that AI chatbots are being used more and more frequently… But like any good thing, it has its downfalls," Kevin Parker, co-founder of vpnAlert, said in an email to Lifewire

Frustrations mount when chatbots can’t answer the question you need answered and nothing can substitute human connection. You can feel on your own when being helped by a bot if it doesn’t understand your requests or can’t help you through a problem. 

Marketing consultant Stuart Crawford said his company, Ulistic, provides live chat services to clients, but has elected not to use AI-driven chatbots to try to keep that "human element."

"We are often dealing with people who are in a rush and have technology problems," he said in an email to Lifewire.

Though bots may be more convenient, human operators can express empathy and ask more thought-provoking questions. 

"We have found AI systems to be great for that initial routing. For example, I love Amazon’s AI chatbots, but at the end of the day, if I have an issue, I want to speak with a human," Crawford said.  

In a ResearchGate study measuring how people interact with chatbots, researchers found that users were more uncomfortable using complex, animated avatar chatbots than simpler text ones. Specifically the study looked at the "uncanny valley effect," which is the feeling of eeriness and discomfort towards a particular technology. Simple chatbots induced less intense psychophysiological reactions, according to the research. 

Anna-Kate Bennington, senior account executive with ClearStory International, agreed that advancement in AI-powered chatbots have their setbacks.

Bennington said it's not one-size-fits-all with chatbots. Instead, "chatbots have advanced, and their creators walk the line between ease of communication and the uncanny valley of 'not quite human,'" she said in an email. 

Some Security Concerns

Another issue that causes people to prefer human interactions over chatbots is security. Dusan Stanar, founder and CEO of VSS Monitoring, said that consumers should also be wary about giving personal information to bots. 

"If a bot requests personal information, you have to take care of how it’s stored and handled. Users should be able to use Face ID or fingerprint scanners, log in with a password before each use, or have their messages permanently deleted," he said in an email. 

Kristen Bolig, founder of SecurityNerd, said that chatbots are vulnerable to a range of security threats. "Expert hackers have infiltrated these accounts, mimicked the bots and stolen sensitive data from unsuspecting users," she told Lifewire in an email. 

Hackers can target chatbots to get financial information, login credentials or to install malicious viruses on your computer, and because you can't see or hear them, you have no way of knowing the bot has been compromised. 

"As they continue to grow in popularity, chatbot providers will need to take additional security measures to protect their users," Bolig added. "Chatbots could benefit from two-factor authentication to block unauthorized users from accessing them." 

So, while bots may be becoming more popular, that doesn’t mean they are preferred by the people they're targeted to, nor are they as secure as they should be, and until those issues are fixed, people will probably continue to prefer speaking with other people.

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