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For Gulf businesses, chatbots are a difficult conversation

Chatbots are increasingly common but when complex issues arise, customers want to speak to a human being Unsplash/Charanjeet Dhiman
Chatbots are increasingly common but when complex issues arise, customers want to speak to a human being
  • Chatbots annoy 80% of customers
  • Bots can lack specificity
  • Useful for simple tasks

In an era in which chatbots are on the rise, attempting to reach customer support often proves to be a frustrating experience in the Gulf. 

My recent encounter with a prominent UAE bank highlighted this reality, as the default option of AI chatbots – a computer programme that allows humans to interact (by voice or text) with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person – left me with no means to communicate with a human. 

It resulted in miscommunication, wasted time and an ultimately unsatisfactory resolution. 

It was only when I opted to cancel my credit card that a human customer service executive from the bank contacted me.

This minor situation raises questions about the prevalence of frustrated customers grappling with AI chatbots daily. 

The US technological research and consulting firm Gartner surveyed almost 500 global customers and found that fewer than one in 12 used a chatbot during their customer service experience. 

This low adoption rate suggests that chatbots often fail to assist customers in achieving their goals.

Simon Morris, vice-president of ServiceNow, a US-based software company, says that the biggest challenge in understanding user queries is correctly predicting the user’s needs, sentiment and context. 

Sandie Overtveld, senior vice-president at the US-based software company Freshworks, says: “Many chatbots currently rely on pre-programmed data that may lack specificity for certain issues, especially those demanding deep expertise.”

When dealing with complex tasks involving multiple layers of decision-making, chatbots may make matters worse, thus frustrating the customer.

A global survey of 1,700 consumers by the European engineering and design company Ujet revealed that chatbots increase the frustration of four out of five consumers.

“Chatbots lack critical thinking abilities and are therefore unable to analyse complex problems or consider alternative perspectives. Their restricted creativity and problem-solving capabilities further hinder their effectiveness in addressing intricate issues,” Overtveld told AGBI.

“These limitations pose a risk of unproductive or even frustrating interactions for customers seeking resolutions to complex problems, potentially resulting in dissatisfaction.”  

Right place and time

However, chatbots can be beneficial in situations where a back-and-forth interaction is required. 

In sectors with limited manpower or resources, chatbots serve as a valuable tool for collecting feedback, providing customer service and handling simple, repetitive questions. 

They are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and often answer customers’ questions more quickly than human agents do.

Sectors including government, education, healthcare, hospitality, retail, and finance, are integrating AI technology to alleviate human workload.

Last year, the UAE government introduced the U-Ask AI-powered chatbot, which allows users to access information about government services in Arabic and English. 

Retailer Lulu Hypermarket also unveiled the chatbot Salem, which helps customers in the GCC receive in-app purchase receipts, track the delivery of online orders and order products for in-store collection.

Ahmed Mahmoud, founder and CEO of DXwand, an Egyptian AI startup, says: “AI has the potential to change how humans do their tasks.”

Mahmoud believes the growth of social media disrupted conventional media but did not completely eliminate it: “It all comes down to your viewpoint and how you deal with fresh developments. It is all about your perspective and how to handle new changes.”

Chatbots can be a great way to provide fast and effective customer service, but they cannot wholly replace human operators.

To provide high-quality customer service and efficiently handle a high volume of inquiries, the best solution is to combine chatbots and human operators strategically, leveraging the strengths of both. 

Overtveld says: “Striking the right balance between automation and human involvement is indeed a critical consideration. One way to create engaging conversations is to accept the constraints and limitations of chatbots and ensure a seamless handoff to human agents when the need arises.”

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