STARTEK Survey Confirms Chatbots, AI Not the End of Call Centre Human Interactions

The trend to solely employ digital or automated tools may backfire as consumers are drawn to companies who offer customer service representatives – particularly when resolving a product or service dispute, according to a new survey sponsored by STARTEK, the Colorado-based business process services firm. [Download the survey report]

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Although the findings show a high degree of satisfaction for digital channels such as chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) associated with routine inquiries such as an account balance, research clearly indicates that consumers are willing to invest more of their time to talk to an agent who cares about them and who can offer insight into resolving their issue.

Dr. James Keaten, chief science officer at STARTEK, said consumers prefer customer service representatives because conversations are much more than the simple exchange of information, serving a broader need, including:

  • Serving as our advocates by anticipating our needs and acting on our behalf;
  • Reassuring us about our choices, such as our role in resolving a technology problem, the merits of a purchase, or the implications of a common mistake; and
  • Allowing two individuals to make sense of a recent experience by choosing to tell their stories and engage in rapport building.

“The survey results validate that humans continue to be the essential component of customer service,” said Dr. Keaten. “To meet consumer expectations, it takes a trained human. In fact, the more digital channels there are, the more humans are needed to manage the process.”

Customers Prefer Interacting with Humans Regardless of Channel

A majority of respondents (85%) said they prefer a customer service representative versus a chatbot/AI or IVR experience. While the results were consistent across all age groups and demographics, the survey does not dispel the allure of digital channels altogether, however. The STARTEK survey confirms that consumers are comfortable with digital channels for customer service and in using more than one channel at a time. For instance, when asked what method or methods of communication consumers used most recently to initiate customer service contact with a company, email was used by 24% of respondents, online chat was used by 22%, and social media communications (Twitter and Facebook) were used by 11% of respondents – not necessarily as their first choice but because brands could be making online options the only alternative.

Only a Human Can Care

When asked to choose what their ideal customer service interaction would look like, 57 percent of respondents want to speak with “an individual who cares about me personally and both answers my questions as well as offers insights.”

Keaten said that companies offering customer care have to ask, “What does human connection provide that technology lacks?

“When consumers interact with self-service technologies, no connection happens. Software can’t express true human empathy. These results show that when there’s an issue, consumers prefer to interact with a human who cares about them and cares about resolving the issue, even if it takes longer. Sixty-six percent said they would rather speak with a human to resolve their issue even if it would take a little longer.”

Millennials Want to Interact with Humans, Too

Much has been reported about Millennials and their digital-first lifestyles and preferences. So one might assume that interacting with a human might not be as important to Millennials as other age groups. The survey found that they actually prefer interacting with a human who cares. In the millennial age group (18 to 34 years), an astounding 76 percent preferred to speak with a human. A slightly higher percentage was reported by the 35 to 54 year old group at 82 percent, while 91 percent of the 55 and over consumers in the survey preferred human interaction.

About the Survey

In April and May of 2017, STARTEK engaged a third-party research firm to conduct a survey of 500 U.S. consumers 18 years of age or older who had contacted either customer service or technical support at one or more companies within the previous 12 months. Survey respondents reported interactions with companies in retail, healthcare, cable and media, financial services, technology, telecommunications, and energy and utilities.