Questioning the Chatbot: Scrutinising the Performance of Telco Customer Service Chatbots

This project was funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) in their 2021 grants round.

Telcos are increasingly using chatbots, and other forms of automated assistants, to process customer questions, requests and complaints. From a telco’s perspective, the use of chatbots has the attraction of responding to customers more quickly and efficiently. For consumers, there may be gains in reduced waiting times, and the flexibility of 24/7 service. There are also risks of harms, including from misunderstandings about the character of the bot, unequal access and exclusion, poor service outcomes, privacy and cyber-security breaches, and scams perpetrated through lookalike bots. This project seeks to investigate and recommend strategies to respond to these risks.

Questioning the Chatbot

Our interdisciplinary research team will conduct survey research and community consultations to develop:

  • A ‘chatbot explainer’ to help consumers understand the technology used in chatbots, how consumers might use chatbots to achieve the best service outcomes, and ways to reduce the risks of harms associated with chatbots;
  • A best practice code for telcos deploying chatbots in consumer interactions; and
  • A report for regulators and consumer advocates which maps the current use of telco chatbots, reviews existing literature, and summarises consumers’ perspectives and the risks to consumer wellbeing, as well as recommendations for effective regulation.

This project is funded via the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) 2021-22 Grants Program. The operation of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network is made possible by funding provided by the Commonwealth of Australia under section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. This funding is recovered from charges on telecommunications carriers.

Research Team