by George Nott

Aussies warm to virtual assistants, but want human help for tricky tasks

May 24, 2017
Business Intelligence

Australian consumers are warming to customer service bots, according to a survey, although still prefer human interaction for complex tasks.

Forty-two per cent of the 750 Australian respondents in a global LivePerson online survey last month rated their overall perception of bots as positive, while 47 per cent rated it as neutral.

Given a scenario where a virtual assistant was just as accurate as a human customer care agent, the majority of local consumers (61 per cent) prefered to chat with the bot. The preference was more pronounced among millennials (68 per cent).

However, while respondents considered virtual agents good for simple transactions – such as account balance enquires, updating personal details, and finding specific products – they prefered a real person for more complex tasks.

“We’ve found that it’s these simple tasks that bots perform best. Bots excel most when they are treated as specialised agents, focused on specific and simple tasks,” said Steven Fitzjohn, LivePerson’s regional vice president for APAC.

“With these specialised bots working alongside human customer care agents and taking care of the routine tasks, humans are freed up to handle the more complex enquiries, allowing businesses to provide the high-quality service customers expect.”

For more difficult issues, 57 per cent of Australian respondents stated they would rather speak with a human – even if they have to wait a short period of time – than chat with a bot immediately. The most common reason given was that they believed a human would understand them better, although 40 per cent report admitted occasionally lying or exaggerating to a customer care person to get the solution they want – something not possible with a virtual agent.

To be considered ‘excellent’, the ideal wait time for a virtual agent is less than two minutes, although Australians were found to be more patient than respondents from other countries surveyed.

When asked why they thought bots were being used by companies, 50 per cent of Australian respondents believed it was to offer faster or better customer service although a similar number (48 per cent) recognised it as a cost-saving tool.

A growing number of organisations in Australia from Jetstar to Domino’s have adopted virtual agents as a first point of contact for customers.

Within government, a virtual assistant called Alex is being used by the ATO and IP Australia, powered by Nuance. Earlier this year, the National Disability Insurance Agency recruited Cate Blanchett as the voice of an IBM Watson powered online virtual assistant called Nadia. A trial has begun, with Nadia expected to be fully operational within a year.

Hi, I’m Robbie the robot

The survey found that a majority of consumers in Australia (46 per cent) didn’t care whether a bot has a personality or name as long as it solves their issues. Thirty-six per cent reported they would prefer a customer service bot to have a name and personality, and given a choice of personas ‘friendly’ was considered the most appropriate.

The prevalence of virtual assistants is booming. An Opus Research report forecast “explosive growth” in the enterprise-grade intelligent assistant market. Spending on IVAs by the enterprise reached US$1bn last year and is predicted to top US$4.5 billion by 2021.

Forrester predict that ‘automated conversational interactions’ would be a key trend in CRM this year.

“It comes down to service,” said Fitzjohn. “Consumers want their issues resolved quickly and easily, regardless of whether it is a friendly bot or human.”