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Virtual assistant, or chatbot, is one of those technologies consumers either love or hate. A chatbot can be a godsend when all that’s needed is a quick answer to a basic question. Go deeper than that and, well, the experience tends to sour.

The problem for many companies has been that they try to do too much with their chatbots all at once, as Metrigy CEO and Principal Analyst Robin Gareiss discusses in a webinar on finding the measurable value of artificial intelligence for customer experience (available on demand). Metrigy’s global Customer Experience Optimization: 2023-24 study with 641 companies shows that chatbots touch 39 of 100 interactions. Out of those, the chatbot resolves roughly 42%—or 16 of 100 interactions.

That’s not a great track record, so it’s not surprising that in surveying consumers Metrigy found that only 13.3% prefer using chatbots over other interaction channels. Better news is that 47.4% will use chatbots in select circumstances—presumably for nothing too complicated. But, a good portion of consumers—nearly 40%—still outright avoid using chatbots today.

Let’s dig into that latter point. Among those who avoid chatbots, most say they stay away from them for two primary reasons. The first, for 62%, is that chatbots don’t understand what they’re asking, and the second, for 62% as well, is that they don’t provide the answers needed. About a quarter say chatbots are too difficult to use, and 28% say using them takes too much time.

These sorts of responses should raise all sorts of red flags for companies. If consumers report that your chatbot doesn’t understand a request, you likely haven’t trained it properly. Perhaps language understanding is an issue, or accents. If a chatbot can’t deliver an answer, perhaps the knowledge base isn’t up to date. If the chatbot is difficult to use, the user interface might need streamlining. And if consumers report that interacting with a chatbot is too time-consuming, then perhaps there’s an issue with branching or response time.

Clearly, most chatbots aren’t yet living up the technology’s potential. But the outlook looks bright. When we asked consumers about their most recent chatbot experience, more reported that being positive (44%) than negative (24%), with 28% saying they considered the experience to be neither positive nor negative. Consumers think chatbots are most useful when they provide information on who the right person is to talk to (48.7%) and for shipping/order confirmations (42.9%), according to our research.

CX leaders can assure their efforts with chatbots get and stay on the right track in a number of ways. For one, they should solicit feedback from consumers on the experience they have with chatbots, and address challenges. They should also consider pairing human agents with their chatbots. Nearly 40% of companies are already doing so, and 52.2% are planning for this structure, according to the CX Optimization study. And, for when chatbots really aren’t the best option for a consumer interaction, they must make the process of escalating to live agent as smooth as possible.