In a nutshell: Employees’ perceptions of chatbots in B2B marketing

Scientific articles contain valuable management implications, but are usually not very easy to digest. We summarize the core results so that you can use the latest research findings for your company.

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Advancements in the science of artificial intelligence (AI) have rapidly transformed chatbot technology into an innovative interface, through which companies can more efficiently interact with their customers in both B2B and B2C processes. Observable advantages such as lower operating costs, improved response times during customer service communication, and consistent 24/7 customer assistance have stimulated enthusiasm and increased the pressure to develop chatbots and create a role for them in business. For example, chatbots can serve to enhance business performance by improving the quality and efficiency of customer services, automating online purchases, facilitating and engaging in communication with customers, and greatly improving response rates to inquiring customers. […]
We investigate the impacts of chatbots’ technical features on employees’ perceptions (namely, chatbot effectiveness and discomfort with using chatbots) in the context of B2B marketing. In particular, to capture the technical features of chatbots, we identify three types of chatbot affordances (i.e., automatability, personalization, and availability) and three types of chatbot disaffordances (i.e., limited understanding, lack of emotion, and null decision-making).
We show that these types of chatbot affordances and disaffordances are related to chatbot effectiveness and discomfort with using chatbots, which in turn can affect employees’ attitudes toward chatbots. We conducted an empirical study via an online survey and collected data from 228 B2B marketing employees.
While automatability and personalization enhance chatbot effectiveness, null decision-making increases discomfort with using chatbots. Further, chatbot effectiveness and discomfort with using chatbots both influence employees’ attitudes toward chatbots. Theoretical and managerial implications are also discussed.

Key statements

Nowadays, B2B companies use chatbots for customer management twice as often as B2C companies do. Whether or not chatbots are used successfully greatly depends on the attitude of the company’s sales and marketing employees. In order to utilize chatbots to their full potential, employees need to feel positive about and be open to this technology.
In their study, the authors address the question of which functions chatbots need to have in order for employees to see them in a positive light and happily utilize them in their day-to-day work. The study uses data from a survey of 228 B2B marketing employees in the US. The authors come to the conclusion that employees perceive chatbots as particularly effective when the bots can independently process customer inquiries and offer personalized answers, for example by accessing customer histories. Because chatbots do not yet possess decision-making skills, employees often feel uncomfortable “leaving them to their own devices”, instead preferring to back up decisions.
The following tips can help you to clear internal hurdles and successfully utilize chatbots at your company:

  • Automation is key: Efficient use of resources is critical, especially for smaller sales and marketing teams. Use chatbots, for example, to answer FAQs so that your employees can focus on more complicated customer inquiries.
  • Gather customer data: Chatbots require access to customer data in order to give customers personalized answers. However, smaller companies in particular often lack this information along with the corresponding infrastructure. For this reason, make sure to prioritize the collection of high-quality customer data.
  • Invest in the future: Employees should continue to make important decisions. Nevertheless, “decision-capable” chatbots are a worthwhile investment. This will allow you to deploy chatbots that can make low-value or low-risk decisions by themselves.

Lin, X., Shao, B. & Wang, X. (2022). Employees’ perceptions of chatbots in B2B marketing: Affordances vs. disaffordances. Industrial Marketing Management. 101. 45-56.