Consumers want chatbots to feel human, not look human

A new study by CapGemini finds that consumers are ready to embrace AI support, and that AI interactions, if properly designed, can enhance the personal connection they feel to brands.

The study is comprehensive – it is based on surveys of 10,000 consumers from 10 different markets and covers all ages, income groups and employee status. It is current, as the surveys were conducted this May. Elsewhere, Capgemini also quizzed more than 500 executives at organizations with revenue above $1 billion in FY17, across 10 global markets. These surveys were supplemented with three virtual focus group discussions with 8-10 consumers per focus group in the U.S., France and Germany. Research for the report included interviews with several key industry stakeholders and academics.

AI awareness

Capgemini found that “consumers are increasingly more aware of when AI is being used by organizations; consumers like it, and they are becoming more prescriptive of when and how it is used alongside humans.”

  • 55% of consumers prefer to have interactions enabled by a mix of AI and humans.
  • 73% of consumers say they are aware of having interactions with brands enabled by AI, including chatbots for customer service, facial recognition for identification, and voice interactions with AI via digital assistant speakers and on their smartphones.
  • 69% of AI-aware consumers were satisfied with their AI-enabled interactions.

AI benefits

Consumers see the greatest value in AI-enabled interactions that give them greater control and saves time.

  • 63% say the benefit from greater control over interactions
  • 63% say they benefit from 24/7 customer service availability
  • 45% say they benefit from faster resolution on support issues (for example, from chatbots/virtual agents)
  • 35% say they benefit from a reduction in the effort it takes for them to interact with the company
  • 29% say they benefit from higher personalization

AI and trust

There is also a relatively high degree of trust in AI-interfaces, despite their novelty.

  • 30% say they perceive AI as having better privacy and security of their personal data.
  • 30% describe AI-enabled interactions as “more trustworthy”

One focus group respondent in Germany said:

“I use Google Assistant and it is surprising what it can do already: that it can give real answers or control Spotify. It’s fascinating that it reacts to speech and can do so much. It’s not just a dumb robot.”

Mark Taylor, Chief Experience Officer, Digital Customer Experience Practice, at Capgemini said:

“It is somewhat ironic that natural language processing and machine learning provides organizations with the opportunity to build deeper, more human relationships with their customers. By focusing their AI implementations to reimagine, streamline and simplify customer interactions, organizations can boost customer spend and loyalty. To see the biggest bottom-line boost, firms need to make both artificial intelligence and customer experience a strategic priority.”

How human should bots be?

Improving the “human” qualities of AI-interactions is a priority to build confidence in the AI assistant, the study finds. For this, refining the natural language interface is critical. However, it is also important for companies that get the AI to sound human to offer transparency on whether the interaction is AI-based or human.

Beyond a conversational interface that sounds human, consumers would also like the performance of AI to be as creative as human agents about identifying solutions.

  • 62% of consumers want a human-like voice when interacting with AI
  • 62% of consumers want a human-like intellect
  • 57% of consumers want AI to be emotionally intelligent, and respond appropriately
  • 55% would like AI to provide greater empathy
  • 54% would like the AI interface to behave like a human, and have a distinct personality

In a comment particularly relevant for travel brands, a participant in the French focus group said:

“It would be really helpful to have smart recommendations for the websites you visit, like Trip Advisor for example. Something reliable and useful, as if it is from a trusted human advisor.”

These qualities would encourage consumers to use AI more often, and to show greater loyalty to brands, the Capgemini study finds.

  • 55% would be more eager to use applications with AI that felt more human
  • 50% would have a greater trust in a company that offers a more human AI.
  • 50% would feel more emotionally engaged with a brand if the AI felt more human.
  • 49% would have a greater affiliation to the company
  • 48% would have higher loyalty for the company
  • 48% would have a higher propensity to spend with the company

Though consumers want AI interfaces to feel more human, they don’t necessarily want them to look human.

A focus group participant in France said:

“Having a human-like AI-based robot would be too spooky, like those dolls that look like real babies.”

Another participant in Germany said:

“They are machines and they were made to help, but I would find it scary if they looked like real humans.”

In part, that’s because of the “uncanny valley” phenomenon identified in the 1970s. Humans find androids that are human-like in appearance but not entirely realistic creepy. Respondents told Capgemini that they would dislike human-like physical features in a machine.

Be clear

But consumers do want transparency about when they are interacting with an AI-interface.

  • 66% said they want to be made aware of having AI-interactions

That consumers welcome AI interfaces does not negate the value of personal service, Capgemini finds.

  • 47% of consumers would prefer a mix of human and AI interactions for products and services that require high considerations, like travel bookings.
  • 45% would have a preference for human only interactions for products and services that require high considerations.
  • Only 8% would prefer AI-only interactions for products and services that require high considerations.

A US consumer described it this way:

“Sometimes it is about the situation in question, rather than just the cost. I could buy a car online via a virtual assistant, if someone recommended it, even though it is an expensive product. But if I have a car accident and need to deal with my insurance company, I would find a human interaction more assuring.”

The report also has a warning for brands that are currently considering or deploying AI-assistants. While the ROI may be appealing (59% of companies are motivated by this) the focus should be on solving consumer problems (7% of companies prioritize this).

Capgemini finds that only 9% of organizations check on consumer preferences when designing their AI interactions.

MIT’s Michael Schrage, an expert interviewed for the report, said that organizations must focus on the customer both with AI and the customer experience.

“For serious organizations, the key metric of success shouldn’t be organizational transformation, but customer transformation. How can you convert your best customers and your typical customers into influencers and advocates for you? Will your customers not just buy from you and be satisfied buying from you, but actively champion you and communicate that you and your brand are great to have as part of their lives? Digital transformation should be about making our customers more valuable to us, not just us more valuable to our customers.”

Related reading from tnooz:

A brief history of artificial intelligence (June 2018)

The truth about AI, NLP and ML – human involvement is mandatory (March 2018)

How AI is transforming the traveler experience from start to finish (March 2018)

An airline perspective on social media and AI in 2017 and the coming year (Dec 2017)

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