Let's kill all of the automated assistants

by David Spark on August 29, 2008

UGGH! I absolutely despise automated assistants. Nothing makes me hate a company more than to engage in a “conversation” with an automated assistant.

When you post an “assistant” on your front page, you’re not fooling anyone. Why do you think you could? With the year after year challenge of the Turing test we’ve yet to be able to truly and consistently fool anyone from being able to tell the difference between a conversation with a human than that of a machine. And even if you could, is that the brand you want to build with your customers? Come to our store where we’ll make you look and feel like an ass.

Chatbot at Hanover

This is a chatbot for Hanover

Today I read David M. Scott’s tale of trying to find out if the bed at IKEA came with a mattress. That’s all he wanted to know, yet he got trapped in this endless and pointless discussion with a being that wasn’t even there. The staff at IKEA doesn’t want to devote additional human resources to answer a question that will lead DIRECTLY TO A SALE. Why do that when you can have a machine waste your customers’ time, frustrate them, and think less of your brand?

That’s why I’m asking all readers and everyone else to truly KILL all of the automated assistants. How could we do it? I’m looking for some suggestions.

Why is it we always ask automated assistants if they’re retarded?

What cracked me up is that moment when Scott got frustrated with the automated assistant and simply asked, “Are you retarded?” Interestingly, the IKEA-bot shot back with a humorous response: “My on-board systems report that all my systems are working perfectly. What would you like to know about IKEA?”

That means the IKEA-bot was PROGRAMMED for the “Are you retarded?” question. The reason is every single time I’ve been trapped in a conversation with an automated assistant, annoyance takes over and I just blurt it out: “Are you retarded?” Obviously the company that makes IKEA’s automated response tool has heard this question a lot and they needed to write a response to calm down people’s obvious irritation.

The reason we ask the “Are you retarded?” question is we’re eager to hear the response. Traditionally it’s usually something that completely ignores the question. Something to the affect of “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you out. You can find more information on our FAQ page.” And that brings me to this point:

You don’t need an automated assistant if your site has good UI

The point of an automated assistant is to help people that are having a hard time finding the information they need on your site. Well, you wouldn’t think you NEED an automated assistant if you could just figure out how to design the user interface and had a search tool of your site better. It is for that reason we need to simply KILL all automated assistants. We have no need for them. We only need better UI and search.

There are solutions to help people who are confused that DON’T involve an automated assistant

I’m a big fan of real humans. I talk to them every day, online, on the phone, and in the real world. Using a tool like Meebo, allows you to put a chatbox on your homepage and put a real human behind it. What a wild and crazy UNSCALABLE concept. I actually had a fantastic discussion with the support person at Libsyn using their chat tool and it was because of that conversation I became a customer! I’ve never become a customer after having a conversation with a chatbot.

Additionally, putting staff in discussion groups or creating one of your own using a service like Get Satisfaction is hugely advantageous.

But back to my original question, how should we kill all the automated assistants?

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  • http://www.hanover.org.uk Dean

    Really enjoyed reading this article David!

    I agree there is nothing worse than an automated assistant/chatbot that is plastered on a website frontpage. Here at Hanover we use our chatbot really as a last resort for visitors to obtain information they might not be able to find on our site.

    Any website should be intelligent enough to not only provide searchable functionality but also should be designed in a way that visitors can locate information easily.

    Our site is purposely for people over the age of 55 and using a new approach we held workshops with our residents, some as old as 85, to seek just how the website should look and feel.

    As a result of this the chatbot was designed and added.

    Unlike some sites, we don’t have it on our homepage. It is a simple link on our ‘Help’ Page.

    The main aim of our Chatbot is to answer questions outside of office hours as our Service Centre is open from 9-5 Mon-Fri.

    Since the launch of the chatbot it has answered 25,000 questions for us and has helped increase the visitors to our website by 380% in the first year alone.

    I agree that they can be complicated and, at times, unhelpful. But there are some uses for technology such as this.

    :)

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