How to Understand if You’re Talking to a Bot

These days, you could be forgiven for thinking AI is taking over. It’s everywhere. Especially when it comes to live support chat services.

There’s been a massive increase in live chat services using bots to answer questions. Are you finding it harder and harder to tell the difference between a chat bot and a real person? You’re not alone.

Chat bots make sense for the companies providing them as it obviously costs a lot less than having to employ 24/7 customer support agents. But they aren’t always what their customers want.

If you’ve ever interacted with a bot when you need help with something, you’ve probably already experienced how annoying it can be. Like, really annoying.

You wanted an answer to a reasonably straightforward question, but all you seem to be doing is going round in circles. If only you could get hold of a real person to talk to, right?

The problem is sometimes it isn’t as easy to tell if you’re talking to a real person or not straight away. You only realise when you’ve already wasted 5 minutes trying to get the answer you want.

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the issues associated with talking to bots, as well as how to find out for sure if you’re talking to a real person or not.

A lot of the time, these bots are easy to spot. Especially if you’re particularly tech savvy. But not everyone is. And many chat bots are becoming more and more sophisticated making them harder and harder to spot even for those with tons of experience on the internet.

The problem with talking to bots

A 2018 study found that chatbots are ultimately not what people want. The study highlights the point well: people want to talk to humans. While businesses might think chat bots are helping, they could actually be losing them customers. People want to talk to real people, especially if they’ve got anything other than just a standard question.

And in the few short years since that study was published the problem has got even worse.

If you’ve ever tried to get a problem solved by a chat bot, you’ve probably already experienced this level of frustration..

But since these bots are becoming more sophisticated over time, spotting whether the live support you’re receiving is from a bot or not is getting harder. So how can you actually find out for yourself if you’re chatting with a bot?

How to tell if you’re talking to a bot or not

Being able to tell if you’re talking to a bot or not used to be easy… But it still isn’t impossible if you know what to look for. Here are a few tips that might help you.

With most of these tips, they aren’t always 100% accurate. Especially if you’re talking to a particularly clever or well-programmed bot. But using one or two together should give you a good idea, so try a couple of them out next time you’re on a live chat and aren’t sure if you’re chatting to a bot or not.

Check what they’re called

This one is simple but if the bot is called “Chat Bot 100”, then that’s probably a fairly good indication that it is indeed a bot. Not every company tries to hide that they’re using them, after all.

However, just because your bot has a real name, that doesn’t actually mean it’s a real person. The problem is, many businesses these days don’t actually want you to know that their support is being provided by a bot… They’d rather make it seem like you’re talking to a real person, because they know that’s what their customers would ideally prefer (they’d just rather not pay for it). So even if the chat support is indeed called “Andrew”, you might have to try another one of these tips…

Have a look at how quickly they respond

Real people need time to think of a response, and to type it out. So when you see a delay before each response, this could be an indication that you’re talking to a real person. If you get in an instant response that couldn’t possibly have been typed that fast, you’ll know for sure that you’re talking to a bot.

So checking response times is probably one of the most effective ways to know that you are talking to a bot… But the problem is, it isn’t necessarily effective in checking if you aren’t. That’s because many chat bots will give delayed responses on purpose to make them seem like real life chat assistants.

Ask them

You: Are you a bot?

Andrew: Yes, I am a chat support bot designed to give you the help you need.

You’re talking to a bot.

You: Am I talking to a bot?

Andrew: No! I’m a real person.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they are. As you can probably tell with many of these tips, they’re sometimes useful for checking if you are talking to a bot, but aren’t always a helpful way of knowing if you aren’t.

It really depends on how up-front the specific bot is about how botty it is. Companies or software that’s happy to admit up front, or even tell you without you asking (as many do) won’t hide the fact they’re using bots. But not every chat bot is like this.

In a way, how honest a business is about using bots could give you a good idea about whether you want to continue being one of their customers. If they’re willing to lie about it, what else are they willing to lie about?

The good news is that many chat bots will indeed simply say that they’re a chat bot straight off the bat. Something like “This is a chat bot”. The bad news is that not all of them do this.

So what about other bots that don’t simply tell you?

Easy ways to spot poor-quality bots

If the live chat says this (or something like it):

Live support: Can you rephrase the question please?

Then that’s a surefire way to tell if you’re talking to a bot. And not a very good one. While bots are getting better at this, many of them simply aren’t good at answering questions if they aren’t in the right syntax or are rephrased in a slightly different way to what they’ve been programmed for. The problem is, not everyone talks and asks questions in the same way. So if the support asks you this, you’re either talking to a bot or someone who doesn’t understand your language very well. Or you’re terrible at asking questions.

With this in mind, you can actually try and “trick” bots into revealing themselves, by asking them something they probably aren’t expecting…

Ask them a non-standard question

Most bots are designed to help in specific areas. If you’re talking to software support, they’ll know about that and will be used to the sort of questions people ask them. If you’re talking to a healthcare bot, they’ll know about that. So what happens if you go off-piste and ask them something about themselves or their surroundings?

You: What’s the weather like there today?

Live chat: Sorry, can you rephrase the question?

Definitely a bot.

You: What’s the weather like today?

Live chat: Today sees highs of 17 C and lows of -1 C with a slight NE wind in the afternoon.

Probably a bot. Real people don’t answer questions like this, and it sounds like the sort of answer you’d get if you asked Alexa. Alexa is a bot too, if you didn’t know.

You: What’s the weather like today?

Live chat: Hmm, it’s pretty cold. I’ve had to turn the heating up.

Almost certainly a real person. Or a very good bot.

Are there any benefits to bot support?

For businesses providing support, there are loads. Most of them boil down to one thing: money. It costs a lot to employ in-house or even remote customer support agents. These costs can ramp up considerably if they want to provide 24/7 support for customers in diverse locations. You can definitely see why they’d be appealing, especially if people generally only need answers to simple questions.

You could even argue that these cost savings for businesses might mean cheaper products for customers like you. After all, if their costs go up prices will probably follow.

But what bots clearly aren’t good for is answering slightly more niche questions. While they’re getting better all the time, they’ll often just give canned answers that don’t really help.

For people interacting with bots, people like you, they aren’t always the answer. There is one way bots can be better for people who need support, and that’s time. Bots are quick at answering questions and you will get instant answers rather than having to wait for a real person to become available. So if you have a simple question or an issue that can be solved fairly easily, bots can help. You’ll be able to get the support you need much faster than waiting to talk to a real person.

These bots are only really good for basic problems stuff you probably could have found if you went and read through the FAQs on a site instead. In bot’s defence, talking to one for basic stuff like this is probably quicker and easier than trawling through a page of FAQs for your answer.

But if you’ve ever talked to a bot for live support, you’ll often have found that the answers you need aren’t available. On some bot services, if the answer doesn’t help you’ll then be placed in a queue to talk to a live support agent taking even more time than if you’d just been allowed to talk to one in the first place.

You could even argue that if you can’t actually tell whether you’re talking to a bot or not, then they must be good enough. But that isn’t really the case. With many bots, it can be hard to tell initially only for the answers to not be good enough further down the line. This wastes even more of your time.

Hopefully, this article has helped you a bit on your journey in the world of online chat bots. Chat bots are undoubtedly here to stay, and they are getting more and more sophisticated all the time. For now, there are multiple ways to can check if you’re chatting to a bot, but this might not always be the case. What have your experiences been with bot support recently? Let us know in the comments below.

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