Generation Z interact more easily with chatbots than their elders

Like many technological tools derived from artificial intelligence (AI), conversational agents, also called chatbots (chat like conversing, bot being the diminutive of robot) fascinate as much as they annoy or frighten. Since at least 2016 and the launch, in the United States, by the fast food chain Domino’s Pizza of its Messenger bot on Facebook called Dom, the global market for chatbots has experienced exponential growth. A report of Business Insider Intelligence estimates that it will exceed the 142 billion dollars in 2024compared to a volume of 2.8 billion dollars achieved in 2019.

The economic sectors that involve interaction with consumers, namely commerce, sales and also a large number of services, are at the forefront of this trend, following the example, in France, of the SNCF OUIbotor ofAloha.), the chatbot of the temp agency Adecco.

Introducing the Domino’s Pizza chatbot (2017).

How are these tools perceived? On this subject, opinions differ. Some see it as a greater efficiency management of sales forces and online purchasing journeys that become more fluid, with less friction and more conversion. On the other hand, others detect the signs of the announced end of physical points of sale, as well as increased risks of manipulation and deceptionincluding the most sophisticated chatbots.

Among these, BlenderBot 3, today’s most technically advanced chatbot launched by Meta in August 2022, has not failed to hit the headlines with racist and antisemitic remarks thus reviving the debate on the ethics of AI tools based on machine learning (because they risk reproducing redundant human practices, even those qualified as malicious).

Recognized competence

Faced with this questioning, we recently carried out research (to be published in the journal Journal of Service Management) to understand and measure the perceptions and intentions of using chatbots. We carried out two series of experiments with two cohorts of users: one comprising representatives of Generation Z (“digital natives”, born after 1995) and a second representative of Generation X (“digital migrants”) .

Among our results, we note that representatives of Generation Z have more positive attitudes towards chatbots. Indeed, the youngest more easily associate them with warm dispositions (warmth) inspired by interaction with others (loyalty, friendship, sincerity) and competence dispositions (intelligence, efficiency, skill) linked to the exercise of a function or role.

We observed these generational differences, regardless of the communication style adopted by the chatbot (friendly, everyday language, emoji vs. strict, strong language, without emoji) and the context of use tested with our sample (i.e. catering and medical services).

Conversely, Gen X elders have less positive dispositions towards chatbots. However, these dispositions are improving and seem to announce a more sustained usage intention as chatbots are deployed with a high social orientation (characterized by a more user-friendly communication).

A style to find

It therefore seems unsurprising that the digital natives of Generation Z have more facilities to interact with chatbots, whose efficiency they particularly appreciate in carrying out the assigned tasks. For their part, the digital migrants of Generation X would be more sensitive to a greater “humanization” of chatbots, and obviously do not appreciate the exclusively “machine” aspect of them.

The right tone to adopt by a chatbot is therefore a common concern of researchers and practitioners of customer relations. In particular, we agree that such a robot should not address all interlocutors in the same way. Advances in NLP (natural language processing) and in analytical data allow increased personalization of conversational flows, depending on user profiles and usage contexts.

At Air France, for example, a chatbot (Louis) is deployed specifically for baggage-related issues (the second concern of travelers), while another “inspirational” chatbot named Lucie gives travel ideas to customers and redirects them to the website to book. For each use or need must therefore match a communication style.

Our research places particular emphasis on the age of users and particularly recommends taking into account the reluctance that representatives of Generation X may experience. It is indeed a privileged marketing target (for reasons of solvency and appetite for a wide range of goods and services), to be clearly differentiated from digital natives. Indeed, this segment of the population represents 31% of income in France and 72% regular internet users.

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On the other hand, the question relating to the anthropomorphic design of chatbots poses ethical problems, in particular the paradox of personalization versus respect for privacy. It also revives the debate around the uncanny valley theory (uncanny valley) according to which, the more the robots adopt human specificities, the more they would be appreciated, up to a certain point from which, this proximity with the human disturbs, even frightens and inspires repulsion? More research in this area might shed some light on this…

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Generation Z interact more easily with chatbots than their elders

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