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Look who’s talking now – why do we care about chatbots vs. humans?

In a recent study, conducted by The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) and co-sponsored by Capita, 82% of customers stated that organisations should make it transparent when an interaction is not with a person but with some form of AI, mainly chatbots.

Although this is a significant number and, in isolation, could be seen as clear evidence that artificial intelligence usage is to the detriment of good customer experience and customer service, there is another side to the argument.

Twenty years ago, most of us were more comfortable purchasing goods in the physical, rather than digital, domain, yet we persevered and today, for many of us, it is simply unthinkable, to suggest that we would have to go to an actual shop to buy something, what a nuisance that would be!

Ten years on, we were now much more comfortable purchasing goods through desktop computers (or, for the more avant-garde, through their shiny Macbooks) and Christmas all of a sudden became a lot less stressful. But even with the release of the first iPhone, we were still not so keen on using our mobile phones for anything other than talking to (or texting) other people. Clearly this is partly down to the fact that the concept of mobile-first or mobile-optimised digital experiences had not yet been established and trying to use your phone to buy your groceries was as challenging as completing a Rubik’s cube. But it is also down to the fact that we simply did not feel comfortable with the concept of making relatively important decisions whilst sitting on a train, waiting for the bus, or eating our well-earned mid-afternoon cookie. So at the base of it, our behaviour patterns did not align and we were not ready to embrace the opportunities that technology were ready to give to us.

But, coming back to the ICS study, there is also a more fundamental issue with the findings. And one that, at its core, is actually very human. The simple reason behind this is familiarity. The same study that found 82% of customers uncomfortable with AI also found that only 17.1% of customers feel highly confident about wider use of AI in everyday life.

So, it turns out, we are after all simply afraid of the unknown. And the concept that we could complete a transaction, however complex, without actually speaking to another fellow human being is somewhat frightening. We therefore try not to see the benefits and instead hide behind a cloak of excuses with which we attempt to shield ourselves from the next technology challenge. In short, we resist progress. But progress will come, and in five years, we are likely to look back and think ‘I can’t believe that I used to have to speak to somebody for this’.

Now, to quell some fundamental fears, this is not to say that we will live in a world where everything will be automised and human beings’ simple purpose will be to switch the machines on in the morning and turn them off in the evening and in-between we put our feet up and enjoy a cup of tea (made by a machine obviously).

Human interaction and, with it, human emotion will continue to form the core framework for our relationships. But these relationships will be more focused. Focused on the things that matter to us the most because machines can take care of the ordinary, less-relevant, day-to-day chores and activities.

So, in a way, machines and artificial intelligence will not diminish our lives and experiences but enrich them, by allowing us to do the things that matter most to us.

The only question is, what are we going to fear once we are comfortable with AI?

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Moritz Dinger

Digital market director, Capita Transformation

Moritz is a highly experienced digital strategy consultant and service design expert with over 15 years’ experience in advising client both in the public and private sector on how to maximise the opportunities and benefits that digital channels and solutions can bring. A particular emphasis for his work has been on transforming organisations by combining creativity, technology and insight to deliver optimal experiences for customers and better outcomes for businesses.

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