As online retailers increasingly use artificial intelligence chatbots to streamline customer service tasks and replace their human counterparts, the researchers examined how emotion-expressing AI chatbots can impact customer service.
-It is commonly believed and repeatedly shown that human employees can express positive emotion to improve customers- service evaluations. However, our findings suggest that this conventional wisdom does not necessarily apply to the case of an AI service agent,- said study co-author and McGill Professor Elizabeth Han , Desautels Faculty of Management.
The research is particularly relevant with the rise of emotional AI - the branch that deals with processing and replicating human emotions - and the recent claim from a Google engineer that an unreleased AI chatbot was -sentient.-
That claim and the resulting backlash led to the employee’s firing for violating employment and data security policies. In addition, a national debate ensued around what -sentient- means and whether Google’s chatbot has consciousness or feelings.
In order to bring real-world applications to the debate, the study explored how customers make sense of and react to positive emotions from an AI chatbot when compared to a human customer service agent.
The researchers say impactful research is needed in emotional AI technologies, because the industry is projected to grow to $100 billion by 2024 and $200 billion by 2026, according to market research from Global Industry Analysts and Reports and Data.
Customers- expectations play an important roleThe researchers conducted three experiments using emotion-capable chatbots in a customer service scenario.
In the first test, participants interacted with either an AI or human customer service agent to resolve a hypothetical service issue. Half the participants chatted with an agent where positive adjectives and exclamation marks were added into its responses, such as -I am delighted to handle your request today!-
The remainder of the group chatted with an agent without any emotions, such as -I am handling your request today.- Participants rated the customer service quality and satisfaction on a seven-point scale.
The experiments revealed some surprising findings:
- While positive emotions from a human are beneficial and increase customer satisfaction, the same emotions from an AI chatbot are not as effective.
- Customers- expectations play an important role, as they don’t expect an AI chatbot to be able to feel emotion. Too much chatbot positivity can be a turn-off for consumers and lead to negative reactions.
The work further expands the understanding of customers- reactions to emotional AIs as well as gives companies guidance on how and when retailers should use emotion-capable AI service agents.
Researchers cautioned that companies should understand the expectations of customers exposed to AI-powered services before haphazardly equipping AIs with emotion-expressing capabilities.
Other major takeaways from the study include:
- Good feelings can spread from a human agent’s positive emotional expressions to a customer, and the same can occur for an AI-powered chatbot. But sometimes those good feelings are cancelled out by a negative reaction to not expecting chatbots to display emotions.
- Expectations play an important role on whether an AI chatbot expressing positive emotions is a positive or negative experience. Different types of customers will react to the same AI-expressed emotions differently.
Servion Global Solutions predicts that by 2025, AI will drive 95% of all customer interactions, including live phone calls and online conversations, according to Finance Digest.
-Our work reveals the unique impact of expressed positive emotion by an AI agent on customers- service evaluations along with the underlying mechanisms and a boundary condition, thus opening up exciting research opportunities in the area of human-AI interaction,- Han said.
Researchers conducted the experiments at the Muma College of Business at USF and at the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology through in-person and online lab sessions from 2019 to 2020.
Aside from Han, the article’s co-authors include Denny Yin, University of South Florida, and Han Zhang, Georgia Institute of Technology.
-To our knowledge, this research is the very first to explore the ramifications of equipping service AI agents with emotional expression capabilities,- Yin said. -We found that people react more negatively when the service agent is a bot instead of a human. The reason is that people do not expect chatbots to have feelings.-
The article -Bots with Feelings: Should AI Agents Express Positive Emotion in Customer Service?- co-authored by Elizabeth Han , Assistant Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management, was recently published in.