Bad chatbots make customer experience worse, not better.

I don’t often pay much attention to my utility company, but as I had a smart meter installed recently I decided to log onto the mobile app and see how it presented my data. This part was pretty good, it showed I was £400 in credit, on average burning (no pun intended) £150 per month and paying £200 per month.

I went to the contact us page where I was presented with a web chat like interface and was initially impressed as I was expecting to have to send an email message. The below then represents a transcript of the “conversation” I had with their bot.

Nic – “Hi, I’m £400 in credit and only using £150 per month of energy but paying £200. Can you refund the credit and reduce my direct debit payment”

Bot – “Hi, before we can refund the credit, we need a meter reading from you”

Nic – “I’ve got a smart meter, you don’t need a meter reading”

Bot – “Would you like a smart meter”

Nic – “Can I please speak to a real person”

Bot – “To talk to an advisor, please call us or go to the web site”

Nic – “!@%^&^&”

Bot – “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help with that”

I then went to the web site and spoke to a real person over web chat who was very helpful and within ten minutes had refunded the credit and changed my direct debit.

Finally, I got an automated email that’s obviously triggered whenever a direct debit changes telling me:

“We are pleased to tell you that we have re-assessed your direct debit and your payments will be reducing”!!!

This example provides three key lessons for customer experience:

  1. Bots can know their limitations and should hand seamlessly over to a human when they can’t parse what’s being asked
  2. The whole conversation needs to take place in the same environment – don’t hand customers off elsewhere
  3. Customer communications need to be context aware, as the number of routes into an organisation increases, dumb communications that assume they are always triggered from the same place make you look disjointed.

Issues like this will only increase as we strive to deliver more advanced technology enabled customer experiences, disjointed elements will stand out.

Omni-channel means creating a connected experience that flows seamlessly across different touchpoints, maintaining the context of the customer conversation.

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