Chatbots better than humans for delivering bad news, study finds

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Posted at 2:59 PM, May 16, 2022

More companies are using chatbots or other artificial intelligence to help people with customer service.

It turns out those bots may be better at delivering bad news than humans.

New research indicates people are more willing to make a bad deal with an A.I. chatbot than they are with a human agent.

"The A.I. is impartial," said Aaron Garvey, one of the authors of the research and a professor at the University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business and Economics. "It doesn't have these human-like intentions, and these human-like intentions are what drive a lot of our responses in negotiations. We're trying to get in the mind of the other person and understand what's motivating them. We just don't ascribe that to A.I."

Garvey's research looked at two cases: One involved concert tickets. The other looked at rideshare prices.

"People took the ride to the restaurant and it was $15," Garvey said, "and then on the return ride, for the exact same distance, it was several times that amount."

In both instances, people were more tolerant of a bad deal from a chatbot.

"On the flip side," Garvey said, "if it's a really solid deal, and something you would normally be appreciative of, you're much more appreciative and grateful if it's coming from a human. You pretty much dismiss it if it comes from an A.I."

Those reactions may be one reason companies are shifting toward chatbots for bad news.

Garvey said it's important for everyone, as consumers, to be aware of what they're dealing with.

"Go in with that inference, 'OK, I might be dealing with an A.I., but there's probably somebody behind the scenes that's setting up the algorithm,'" Garvey said. "That's ultimately responsible for the offer that's coming to me. It's not necessarily an impartial, unintentional offer that's being handed to me by a computer. There is a human somewhere in the background."

Garvey believes this technology could branch out into the workplace.

As companies learn that people respond better to bad news from A.I. sources, they may choose to deliver pink slips or bad performance reviews via chatbot instead of in person.