Transparency and human supervisors key to chatbot success

Published on the 20/07/2023 | Written by Heather Wright

Creating a successful dual frontline service…

Conversational chatbots are among the most widely-applicable generative AI use cases, but deploying any chatbots successfully requires transparency according to new research, which also shows that having a human ‘supervisor’ increases customer satisfaction.

The research comes from the University of Auckland, where a researchers have been looking at the chatbot-human collaboration and customer perceptions.

Laszlo Sajtos, University of Auckland associate professor, marketing, says businesses will be well served if they move towards building human-digital employee teams providing a dual frontline to represent their brand and business.

“It’s critical to provide clear communication to and in front of the customer about what happens during service provision.”

But ensuring that dual frontline is cohesive – and seen by customers to be working together – is critical.

“We recommend that firms train their digital and human employees to work as a cohesive team in front of customers,” Sajtos, who is currently working on a project on the use and perceptions of robots in restaurants in China, says.

One option, he notes, is coding the chatbot to notify customers about task handovers and instructing human employees to acknowledge the transfer in front of the customer.

Businesses across Australia and New Zealand have harnessed chatbots or ‘virtual customer relations staff’ in recent times. Last year, the AI Forum NZ noted that Tower Insurance’s Charlie chatbot was answering around 2,000 conversations a da, with Air New Zealand’s Oscar also managing 2,000 sessions a day.

Now companies including Google and Microsoft are making their generative AI chatbots, initially focused on search, available through APIs to enable companies to integrate their systems with the chatbots, creating new service innovations and user experiences.

Sajtos says his research shows considering chatbots as collaborators and team members, rather than merely tools, fosters customer recognition of a positive alliance and effortless human-bot teamwork through their awareness of the team’s joint efforts in handling service requests.

Across five experimental studies Sajtos, former Business School doctoral student Khanh Bao Quang Le and associate professor Karen Fernandez conducted, they found making the human-digital employee collaboration visible to customers during the service interactions helped drive satisfaction.

“The key word here is transparency,” says Sajtos.

“When human and digital employees work together, it’s critical to provide clear communication to and in front of the customer about what happens during the service provision – who takes care of what task and what information is transferred between entities.

“It’s important to demonstrate a cohesive team through communicating a joint goal.”

Having a human employee in a supervisory role was also found to increase customer satisfaction.

Sajtos cites the example of telco One New Zealand (formerly Vodafone) whose Hana ‘digital employee’ notifies customers that they can always escalate their request to a human, something Sajtos says creates a sense of cohesiveness because customers know that a human is monitors the interaction.

The University team says explaining the process to the customer and setting expectations at the beginning of the experience can create a seamless customer experience and the impression of a cohesive team.

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