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After twenty-one years of irritation with the hassle of online purchases, the current pandemic has placed my traditional-shopping-experience-loving self back in the game of navigating brands online. While most consumers see online shopping as the most efficient way to purchase items, I place much more importance in the sensory experience of shopping. Seeing, touching, and interacting with items gives one a much greater sense of whether or not they want to make a purchase. Online shopping, for clothes and otherwise, comes with difficulties in knowing sizes, quality, and actual color. To try to help with all of these difficulties and the questions that arise for the consumers concerning such, many sites install some type of chatbot in aiding in customer service. Yet, I find myself avoiding any automated bots as best I can.
To clarify, there are actually scenarios where I find these chatbots quite useful. This is the case when the chatbot in fact delivers you the ability to talk to a representative in real time. A trend I notice in my generation is that we do not enjoy calling customer service numbers and speaking to someone over the phone. I am no exception to this generalization, for there are very few family members and friends that I am comfortable enough with to call, let alone enjoying doing so. Many people in their teens and twenties, including myself, much prefer texting, typing, or chatting. This is especially the case when it comes to asking questions to customer service representatives, so in that sense, a chatbot is somewhat genius. I remember once needing to ask a very specific question about Adobe applications. I had previously been a paying customer, but because of the pandemic and remote schooling, there were programs for Pepperdine and other college students to get the applications for free for a few months. I was on the roster to receive this aid program, and yet Adobe had charged my card for my subscription. I went to talk to the Adobe chatbot, and an actual representative had a conversation with me about the issue, understood that I should be getting a few months of the applications for free, and waived my fees on my account. It was a wonderful customer experience, and I thanked the heavens that I did not even have to speak over the phone with someone. So, if this was so wonderful, why do I still avoid chatbots? The difference between this specific experience and most of the chatbots that pop up when I am on websites is that the majority of the bots are completely automated. They create a sort of experience in which one can ask a question, and the technology is supposed to recognize specific words and curate pre-formed responses. To me, a lot of companies unfortunately do not spend the time to create a well-programmed bot, and most send back useless information to my questions. If they send an answer I am not looking for, follow up questions are still useless and will land me the first answer again. Other issues I take with them tend to be their unnaturality; either the bot loads for minute after minute and I end up closing it out, or the response will be so fast that it feels a bit unnatural. These factors mean that when I do indeed engage with online shopping, which is highly relevant as of late, I am likely to not engage with the chatbot that pops up on most websites.
Despite my uncommon leaning towards FAQ sections on websites or generally avoiding all question-asking in general, I do not think that chatbots should necessarily be deemed ineffective or to not be used. For those who do not mind chatting with them and share my distaste for actually calling numbers to speak with someone, they can still serve a very useful purpose. For companies, it means not having to hire someone to respond to any questions at all times, and these questions are most likely predictable and coverable by automated responses the majority of the time. Though I abandon the bots because of the common specificality of my questions and hunches that the chatbots will not be able to help me, their broad use is undeniable. I would expect for the online shopping market, and therefore the use and development of chatbots, to grow significantly in the future regardless of my slight distaste.
Erica Lewis, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: When you communicate with the customer service department of a brand, do you use the chatbots that are on many of their websites. If so, why? If not, why not? The class covers copyright and social media. Erica is an Advertising and Art major.
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