Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is on the record for saying, “Chatbots are the new apps.” During the last few years, tens of thousands of chatbots have been deployed on a variety of online platforms, including but not limited to Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack, Discord, and others. Companies are using chatbots for customer service automation and countless other tasks. Some researchers have formally studied the reasons why people use chatbots. We share one such study below.
Chatbot questionnaire on usage
Petter Bae Brandtzaeg and Asbjørn Følstad are two of the few who have taken a scientific look at exactly why people are interested in chatbots. They surveyed 146 people from the United States aged 16 to 55 about the technology. Participants were asked 17 questions about their chatbot use, including motivations for using the technology and experiences with chatbots. Demographic information was also collected.
While a substantive amount of research has been done on users’ experience with chatbots, little attention has been given to why people are so interested in the technology again. Below, we outline the findings of one of the few studies conducted specifically about why people use chatbots. We also have some thoughts on the future of chatbots.
Motivations for chatbot use
A majority of respondents had used chatbots on Facebook Messenger with Skype and Kik close behind. Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed said they had been using the technology for two years or less. The open-ended question about motivations for chatbot use can be fit into five main categories.
Over two-thirds of people in the study stated productivity as their main reason for using chatbots. Most respondents cited ease, speed, and convenience of chatbots as main reasons the technology helped with productivity.
Saving time appeared more than once in written answers. A small number of participants (5%) stated that they enjoyed chatbots as a way to avoid waiting for human help. Five percent also admitted their preference for chatbots as a way to avoid potential embarrassment by “stupid questions.”
Nearly half of the people in the study stated they used chatbots specifically as a way to get help or access information. They also indicated they used chatbots on a daily basis for this type of assistance. Only three participants in the study wrote they appreciated being able to configure or customize chatbots was important to them.
Twenty percent of those who participated in the chatbot survey indicated they primarily used chatbots for entertainment purposes. While not as large as those who use the technology for increased productivity, it was the second highest reason in the study. A smaller percentage (7% of total respondents) mentioned they use chatbots for increased productivity and entertainment purposes. Many people noted chatbots were “fun” and “entertaining.”
Twelve percent of respondents cited social and relational benefits of chatbots. Most of these people referred to having a social interaction with the chatbot to stave off loneliness, but a small percentage liked chatbots for their ability to enhance human to human communication. Once again, productivity was mentioned more than once by people as an added benefit of using the technology, i.e. they’re able to get help with social and relational needs while at the same time increasing productivity.
The next biggest reason for people using chatbots was simply curiosity and the novelty of the technology. Some of this group of people hinted they enjoyed the technology being “new” and saw themselves as early adopters. Others were skeptical of chatbots due to privacy concerns but still wanted to check them out on their own.
Here are the other reasons people listed for using chatbots. These answers didn’t appear often enough for them to get their own section, but they’re still interesting.
- It is easier to talk to a chatbot than to talk to people about important issues. •
- Chatbots can provide automatic responses when others are not available.
- One can more easily identify an account as a bot and subsequently block it.
- Chatbots can be a default method of customer support.
Implications for chatbot design
Here’s a round-up of the main reasons people use chatbots according to this study.
- Productivity – The immediacy and interactivity of chatbots both serve to increase productivity which is a prime reason people use the technology. Information has long been valuable to people, but chatbots offer immediate access to that information, making it even more valuable.
- Entertainment – A close second reason people use chatbots is entertainment and other social reasons. Beyond entertaining, over a third of respondents in the study mentioned productivity mixed with entertainment as a reason they enjoyed using chatbots.
- Novelty – While chatbots have been around for decades, renewed interest in the technology has many people curious about what’s possible. The number of people who look into chatbots out of curiosity will likely shrink as they become more commonplace, but for now this is a motivator for some.
Future of design for chatbots
With the information above, chatbot creators have an interesting look at why people are currently using the technology and what aspects can be improved upon in the years ahead. By doing more research on why people use chatbots, designers can make their creations even more useful. The future is bright for all sorts of social media chatbots.
Oisin is a software engineer based in Galway, Ireland with a special interest in chatbots. He is the author of Chatbots: An Introduction And Easy Guide To Making Your Own.