To err is Chatbot, to forgive is human

Should chatbots be deceptive?

Chatbots are often indistinguishable from humans when it comes to communication. But should companies let their customers know that they are communicating with machines and not with humans? Researchers at the University of Göttingen investigated this topic in a research project documented at

The result: most noticeably, if service issues are perceived as particularly important or critical, there is a negative reaction when it is revealed that the conversation partner is a chatbot. This scenario weakens customer trust.

Interestingly, however, in cases where the chatbot cannot resolve the customer’s issue, the results suggested disclosing that the contact was a chatbot led to positive customer reactions. 

“If their issue isn’t resolved, disclosing that they were talking with a chatbot, makes it easier for the consumer to understand the root cause of the error,” says first author Nika Mozafari from the University of Göttingen. “A chatbot is more likely to be forgiven for making a mistake than a human.” In this scenario, customer loyalty can even improve.

The takeaway from the study is that with appropriate disclosure, chatbots can also be forgiven for their mistakes.

But is it ethical to not reveal that a customer service agent is a chatbot until it has failed to help the customer? Shouldn’t this be revealed upfront in the interaction?

With chatbots becoming increasingly sophisticated I think there’s a clear ethical requirement for companies to disclose when a customer is talking to an agent.

In a world where conversations with chatbots are becoming more natural, I think companies should be honest if they are using technology as part of their customer service.

Furthermore, I think there’s an opportunity for brands to use chatbots as an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with their customers.

For example, if a customer raises a problem with a chatbot, the brand can send a follow-up message that thanks them for the feedback, asks how they are feeling and offers to send a human customer service agent to follow up.

Essentially, a chatbot could be used to gather information about the customer’s experience, and then a human can follow up with a more personalised response.

Now, it’s not a silver bullet, chatbots are very good at dealing with pre-scripted issues, but they often struggle with more complex interactions. But I think there’s an opportunity for brands to use chatbots as a way to gather feedback and engagement data, and then use that data to inform how they service other customers.

So, if you are using chatbots, I think you should be honest with your customers about this.

I think there are lots of opportunities for brands to use chatbots to delight their customers, but I think there are also great opportunities for brands to use chatbots to build a deeper relationship with their customers.

If you are using chatbots, I’d love to get your thoughts on this.


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