Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 11

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Spam.

This week’s topic: Chatbots

Chatbots are a state-of-the-art technology that is allowing companies to automate customer interaction in a way that saves money and provides a better, more consistent user experience. The most sophisticated chatbot technology utilizes artificial intelligence to get smarter over time and provide quality service in an efficient manner.

The technology is still new, and will continue to improve exponentially. So now is the time for brands to begin to learn about how they might deploy chatbots to work for them.

Already, companies from Dominos to General Electric to Uber are using chatbots in some form or another. Whether they’re used for customer service, sales support, product demos, or ordering, marketing teams will use chatbots across a variety of industries and functions in the next decade.

The ethical question we need to ask ourselves is this – how important is it for consumers to know when they are talking to a bot vs. when they are talking to a human being? In the cases where someone receives high-quality service, accomplishes what they set out to, or gets the answers to their questions, this may not matter. In those cases, a bot is just as good as a human, maybe even better.

But in the cases where the interaction is negative, where the answers don’t come, or the customer is left unsatisfied, we have an issue. Was it the bot’s fault? Would a human have handled a situation better?

Since the technology is still so new, most customers today will assume that they are talking to a human being every time, until something or someone tells them otherwise. But in the near future, it may be commonplace to talk to bots, so much so that we assume we are talking to a bot unless proven otherwise.

If I, as a customer, think I am talking to a real person on the other end, is it the company’s responsibility to inform me when I’m not? I don’t know the answer to that, but I tend to err on the side of transparency. It is certainly something that industries and brands are going to have to decide before too much longer.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.