Conversational chatbots have become relatively commonplace features on websites and apps, but many businesses are still determining how to integrate them. The goal is that the self-service AI tech can be leveraged to drive customer engagement and speed customer service inquiries, which is especially appealing to retailers whose supply chains and CX teams have been hard-hit by by the pandemic.

The market for chatbot tech is expected to keep growing, but what’s largely missing from the numbers is broad spectrum consumer opinion, adoption, and use trends.

Taking stock of where public reception of chatbots stands today, a CivicScience survey of more than 2,600 U.S. adults learned that nearly 80% of consumers are familiar with the technology, at least within a customer service context. However, just 18% feel at all favorable toward customer service chatbots while more than 40% feel unfavorable. Among those who are aware, that works out to more than half who feel averse to chatbots in the customer service sphere.

How many people have used CX chatbots online? Survey results indicate that 78% of adults have likely engaged with a chatbot at some point, which closely mirrors overall awareness (+/- 3% margin of error). Yet most people who have experience with using a chatbot don’t find chatbots on company websites to be helpful to them when making a customer service inquiry. Sixty-eight percent say chatbots are rarely or never helpful, while 33% – or 1 in 3 – say they’re at least sometimes helpful.

Where are people most likely to see and/or use chatbots? Sixty percent of adults have encountered a chatbot on a website or in an app in a variety of different retail and service categories surveyed. More than half of respondents encountered chatbots on communications service sites/apps (such as internet providers) and while retail shopping. Nearly 40% have come across chatbots when using banking and financial services online. People were less likely to see chatbots on auto dealer sites, healthcare, realtor services, and news & publication sites or apps.

What do people want from customer service? A narrower look at today’s diverse customer service experience shows that among the many different avenues a customer can take to reach customer service, chatbots are severely in the minority. Just twelve percent of respondents claim chatbots and/or live chat is their preferred method of communication with customer service after making a purchase. Data show this has not grown since 2020.

On the other hand, less people prefer to send emails today, while more would rather make phone calls or visit a business’s location to talk to someone in person. In other words, more people today prefer to have traditional human-to-human interactions when it comes to customer experience, likely as the result of social isolation caused by the global pandemic, which is something of a catch-22 for businesses.

Even so, most respondents (63%) who interact with customer service say they are at least somewhat satisfied with their last customer service experience.

Chatbot favorability pales in comparison to live chat with a customer agent. Even though just 12% prefer to use chatbots or live chat to reach customer service, experience with live chat exclusively is surprisingly high – nearly 60% of people have used a live chat feature to talk to an agent before, and the majority of that group say they would use it again.

That said, most businesses aren’t turning to chatbots to entirely replace humans in CX, but rather to speed up information retrieval, drive engagement, and provide an arm of support to CX teams. The data above suggest that using chatbots to lead a customer to live chat with an agent could be a valuable use of the technology.

Who is likely to use chatbots? Finally, the surveys looked briefly at which types of consumers are the most likely to embrace chatbots and which sectors stand to benefit.

Banking may be one. People who do their retail banking online are significantly more aware of chatbots and also generally more favorable to them than non-online bankers. However, people who do 50% or less of their banking online are much more likely to be favorable than heavier online bankers, who are largely not favorable to chatbots. That’s something for the fintech industry to consider.

People who do more shopping online than in stores are also much more likely to both be aware of and favorable to chatbots. Thirty-eight percent of online shoppers say that chatbots are at least sometimes helpful, however a larger percentage (48%) say they are rarely or never helpful.

Lastly, and unsurprisingly, reception of chatbots decreases with age. Younger audiences are much more aware of and open to using chatbots. A full 40% of Gen Z adults and 30% of Millennials are favorable to customer service chatbots. Similar numbers of these age groups also feel that chatbots are at least somewhat helpful.

Findings suggest that the scales are still tilted in favor of human experiences when it comes to customer service, but chatbots do appear to have a place. Survey results suggest that the technology has a ways to go. While older adults may be less likely to want to adopt chatbots at all, the majority of young generations still don’t find chatbots to be helpful as a customer service tool, leaving plenty of room for improvement and growth.