Why customer service chatbots fail (and how to fix them)

Natalie Smithson
AI enthusiast | Tea addict | Focused on using AI assistants to win the working week
AI assistant chat

AI chatbots are rapidly transforming customer service as we know it, and while others may have stumbled with automation in the past, you don’t have to. Next-gen AI assistants are smart, capable helpers, ready to support your teams as well as your customers.

We’ll unpack nine of the most common reasons why AI chatbots fail, from too much reliance on AI to not enough promotion of the assistant. Once you know what to avoid, there’s nothing to stop you from joining the pioneering customer service leaders making huge headway in reshaping customer service today.

Read on to know how to make your AI chatbot a rip-roaring success.

TL;DR

  • We’ve been creating and managing AI assistants for a decade and based on everything we’ve witnessed over the years, we’re sharing the most common reasons people become unstuck.
  • The most common reasons for failure are relying too heavily on AI and automating tasks that shouldn’t be automated, as well plugging directly into generative AI tools like ChatGPT.
  • Trying to pretend your AI is a human but also neglecting to show any empathy is another common reason why AI chatbots fail, as is plugging in directly to generative AI tools.
  • Keeping a human in the loop, using live chat, checking site speed, and using links and images in AI chatbot responses are some of the ways to find success with your AI chatbot.
  • You should also take security and data protection seriously, let your AI assistant learn from real customers, and know how to use live chat the right way for the best result.

How do AI chatbots work?

An AI chatbot is a smart conversational assistant that talks to your customers in real time to automate routine tasks. The most advanced AI assistants learn and adapt over time, fast becoming a valuable tool for customer service leaders who want to simplify workflows, improve efficiency and boost customer satisfaction.

Traditional chatbots

When chatbots first emerged, they were underpinned by a rigid technological framework. Developers had to give them precise instructions for giving automated responses to customers. Relying solely on static scripts, these chatbots were hugely limited in their capabilities, often leaving customers frustrated because of their lack of adaptability and natural interaction. Thankfully, the technology began to shift course. Companies like Stena Line Ferries started to explore their options, including live messenger chat, AI app integration, and even a hologram. The AI automation industry started taking off in all kinds of exciting new directions.

Advanced AI assistants

Today’s most advanced AI assistants have come a long way. These smart communication tools are now designed to have more human-like conversations with customers and better understand their needs. With intelligent language capabilities, they can dynamically adapt to various customer queries to offer more personalised, relevant support, and in real time. This has unlocked a wealth of opportunities for customer service leaders across all kinds of industries to enhance customer interactions, reduce response times, and even improve team productivity.

On the left is a grey, impersonal robot AI with the text

9 common reasons for AI chatbot failure + a quick fix for each

If you’re ready to launch a chatbot or more advanced AI assistant, there’s no time to waste. Markets and Markets report the market size for conversational AI is “expected to increase from USD 10.7 billion in 2023 to USD 29.8 billion by 2028”. To get ahead quickly and make the most of the opportunities available, you’ll want to avoid any wrong turns along the way.

We’ve been creating and managing AI assistants for almost a decade now, and based on everything we’ve witnessed over the years, we’re sharing the most common reasons people become unstuck, so you don’t have to.

Here are nine of the most common reasons why AI chatbots fail, plus a quick fix for each:

1. You rely completely on AI

No AI assistant, no matter how advanced it is, can replace your real-life customer support agents. There has to be a person in the background checking everything’s in order and optimising your AI assistant for the best performance if you want to keep it working alongside your teams effectively and detecting the ever-evolving needs of your customers.

Fix: Keep a human in the loop at all times to make sure things stay tickety-boo.

2. You’re automating tasks that shouldn’t be automated

It’s important to strike a balance between AI automation and human intervention, especially for sensitive enquiries that need empathy and understanding. While AI assistants can efficiently handle a range of tasks and resolve many customer queries, they shouldn’t be used to try and address emotionally charged or unusual situations. In these cases, a human touch makes all the difference to providing a compassionate or strategic response, so the customer feels heard and supported.

Fix: Use live chat to pass customers over to your teams where needed.

3. You’re plugging directly into generative AI tools

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT have opened up a whole new level of advanced AI for customer service leaders and these large language models are transforming customer support. The problem with generative AI, as we all know, is it’s prone to making things up. Plus the output is never the same from one query to the next, and if there’s one thing you want for your brand, it’s consistency. That way, customers know they can put trust in you and become loyal. While generative AI chat tools are still developing, it’s best to use them with caution.

Fix: Use an experienced AI provider that knows how to use generative AI tools safely and wisely, not an ‘expert’ that popped up yesterday.

4. You’re trying to pretend your AI chatbot is a human

Pretending your AI assistant is a human is disingenuous and can lead to a breakdown of customer trust. Forrester Research says 63% of people will leave a company after just one poor experience, so you’ll want to do everything in your power to prevent losing customers, especially since you often have only one shot at keeping them. Being transparent about using an AI assistant is always best, and that way, customers can soon start to fully appreciate its efficiency and support.

Fix: Give your AI assistant a clear identity and choose a strong name.

A woman sits on top of a grey block next to a large device with five emoji faces on it, from happy to sad. The sad face is red to stand out and sits alongside the text

5. You don’t promote your AI chatbot

Failing to actively promote your AI assistant or hiding it away on a lesser-visited page might result in customers being completely unaware of its existence and the valuable support it can give them. To avoid this, make sure you announce the arrival of your AI assistant, explain its benefits, show your customers what it looks like and where to find it.

Fix: Give customers a direct link to your AI assistant, so they can try it out for themselves.

6. Your customers get stuck in a loop

There will be times when your AI assistant can’t answer a customer’s query because it hasn’t been trained on the specific topic, or it’s simply not relevant to what you do. In these situations, customers can get stuck in unproductive loops, going round and round without an answer, leading to poor user experiences. It’s essential to help customers break free from these unhelpful cycles by always giving them somewhere to turn, whether that’s prompting them to ask the question again in a different way or using live chat to pass them over to a member of your team to chat in person.

Fix: Use a platform with lots of helpful methods of keeping the conversation moving.

7. Your teams aren’t practising empathy

Cultivating empathy in your teams is essential for understanding the needs and emotions of your customers, whether it’s shown over the phone, through live chat, or in automated conversations. An AI assistant sends out automated responses to your customers, but the information included in those responses must be approved by an experienced and empathic customer service expert. Miss this vital step, or rely solely on generative AI tools like ChatGPT to produce the text for you, and it can result in a disconnect between your AI assistant and your customer, leading to a far less satisfying experience for them overall.

Fix: Teach your teams about the importance of empathy in customer service and embed it into your company culture.

8. Your AI chatbot is slow to load or respond

Unbounce found a whopping “70% of consumers admitted page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer,” so you can’t bank on customers waiting around for a slow chatbot either. Make sure you have all the technical expertise and support you need to keep your AI assistant running at top speed.

Fix: Use an advanced platform to create your AI assistant ― it’s a faster, cheaper investment, plus you’ll rest well at night knowing it’s reliable.

A man sits alongside an oversized computer window that shows a

9. Information you share isn’t helpful or is poorly presented

Conversations with an AI assistant should mimic the conversations your agents would have with customers in person. You want to be sure any information given out to customers is correct and up to date, but it also means not bombarding people with too much information at once, which can confuse or overwhelm them. Think at every stage of the conversation how the information shared by your AI assistant will be received, and get customer feedback on their experience.

Fix: Use links, videos, images, emojis, and more to keep AI assistant conversations natural and enjoyable for your customers.

“In 2024, the essential first step to building an AI assistant is to use the latest LLM technology to power its ability to understand exactly what users are asking and give appropriate help. However, to take your AI assistant to the next-level, you need to have oversight of how it interacts with your customers and be able to control its output, so you can spot the areas where the experience could be improved and take action. This AI-human feedback loop will drive your AI assistant’s performance and capacities to ever-greater heights.”
Joseph Clayton, Conversation Analyst at EBI.AI

Other secrets to maximising your potential for chatbot success

Navigating the world of AI chatbots might seem complex at first, but with the right approach, you can take your AI assistant from functional to fantastic in no time at all.

As well as avoiding common pitfalls, there are three distinct priority areas to think about to set yourself up on the right path for successful customer service automation.

1. Take security and data protection seriously

You’ll need to consider every element of information management, including security for your account, your customer data, compliance and GDPR, change management, cloud security, vulnerability management, and much more. Unless you have a team of engineers, developers, AI specialists, and security analysts with lots of experience, it’s far easier to use an established AI chatbot platform from a reputable supplier than it is to try and build all this from the ground up (it takes years!).

2. Let your AI assistant learn from real customers

When you launch an AI assistant it can be tempting to add responses for all your most frequently asked questions or as much as you can about your products, services or offers in the hope it’ll perform better, but for today’s more advanced AI assistants, the opposite is true. The key to your success is to launch quickly and let your AI assistant learn on the job using real customer enquiries; it soon susses out what’s most important to people. Guessing and attempting to address every possible issue can actually hinder the performance of your AI assistant, interrupting its natural evolution and decreasing improvement overall.

3. Know the true purpose of live chat

Live chat is often used as an extra communication channel, but it’s not supposed to pull in every new enquiry you get ― companies have been known to launch live chat only to switch it straight back off again when their support teams become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conversations.

The trick to using live chat effectively is to only trickle in the queries your AI assistant hasn’t yet been trained to answer, or for sensitive, more complicated queries that are better handled by human agents. Leave everything else to your AI assistant.

Over time, as your AI assistant is trained to answer more and more queries and you introduce more channels or integrations to assist with that, the more enquiries your AI assistant will start to solve from start to finish without any interaction from your support teams. As a result, live chat interactions go down; customers get human support when they truly need it, and instant, AI-driven responses the rest of the time.

A green chart on the left shows the number of conversations with the AI assistant going up and up. A red chart on the right shows the number of live chat conversations with the support team going down and down.

Launching a successful AI chatbot has never been easier

Chatbot usage doubled after the pandemic with customers becoming more familiar with the technology.

Now, LLMs (large language models) like ChatGPT are transforming customer service automation too, propelling AI technology forward at a phenomenal pace. McKinsey reports generative AI of this nature could add up to “$4.4 trillion a year to the global economy” and make us more productive than ever.

All sorts of industries are benefitting from the use of advanced AI assistants. From leisure companies and grocery chains to Barking & Dagenham London Borough Council who hit a 533% ROI in just nine months after launching theirs.

Barking & Dagenham Council logo alongside the text

Calculate your savings

Calculate the cost savings that will be achieved by adding an AI assistant to your website

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To calculate accurate savings for your business, put your real figures in the boxes below to replace these benchmarks.

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of enquiries you wish to be handled by your AI assistant (without the need for a call, email or live chat)
your average hourly rate for customer service rep / agent (including costs such as training, equipment, recruitment)

The best part is, you only need to pay for what you use, so there’s no risk in getting started with advanced AI today. Now you know the secrets to AI automation success, you can create your own customer service AI assistant in just minutes.

FAQs

What is the biggest problem with AI chatbots?

The biggest problem with AI chatbots often stems from a failure to balance reliable automation with essential human interaction. Common pitfalls include claiming AI chatbots are human, negative experiences caused by unresponsive or slow bot performance, and failing to provide valuable or clear information. The success of an AI chatbot heavily rests on transparency, empathy, and customer-centric design.

What are the limitations of AI chatbots?

Despite their potential, chatbots do have some limitations. They can struggle with understanding the nuances of human language and complex requests, leading to miscommunications. They can also fail to effectively handle sensitive or emotive topics where empathy is needed. Moreover, chatbots can become stuck in a loop when faced with unfamiliar queries, creating poor user experiences.

How do you stop an AI chatbot from being a failure?

There are lots of things you can do to prevent your AI chatbot from failing. First, keep a human in the loop at all times, discern between tasks that need AI or human intervention, use generative AI tools wisely, and actively promote your chatbot. You can stop customers from getting stuck in repetitive loops, put empathy at the centre of your team culture, and focus on sharing helpful, well-presented information by crafting engaging and natural conversations.

What else can you do to make sure your AI chatbot doesn’t fail?

To prevent your AI chatbot from failing, it’s crucial to prioritise security and data protection. Using an established AI chatbot platform provider helps with this. You should also let your AI assistant evolve organically through direct interaction with customers, rather than overloading with lots of different responses you think it should use. Lastly, use tools like live chat properly: let it kick in for queries your AI can’t handle yet or for more sensitive issues that need the human touch. Don’t just use it as an extra channel of communication.