Coca Cola : Virtual agent falls flat

Interactive Q&A feature shows the dangers of a poorly executed chatbot

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The feature

Coca-Cola invites users on its Contact page to ask the company a question, via a simple ‘Ask Coca-Cola’ panel.

It is in effect a basic chatbot, introducing itself as ‘your virtual agent’. There is a 110 character-limited field for the user to type in their query, with a ‘Send’ button to submit it.

Answers are logged above in a transcript of the chat, and the agent lets users know that it is ready for more questions if required.

Results were mixed when we tested it again, as they have been when we have reviewed the site for our Index. Requests for information on the Annual report and jobs elicited helpful links, but queries on the company’s position on water consumption or the share price produced nonsensical answers.

The takeaway

Through its unreliable performance, the virtual agent could well lead to an increase in the very enquiries we suspect the company is trying to reduce. The fact that the bot does not seem to be ‘learning’ over time suggests this technology has not had the post-launch attention it needs to develop into a truly helpful feature.

The agent also distracts the user from some of the more useful material in the ‘Contact us’ area, including comprehensive FAQs and pages dedicated to confronting rumours about the company and its products.

The Deutsche Telekom chatbot we wrote about recently is a much more successful example of chatbot deployment, primarily because backup options to contact humans are better integrated. It also does not present itself as ‘human-like’; Coca-Cola’s choice to call its bot a virtual agent, and have it respond like a person, might set up higher expectations from users which it fails to meet, as a recent study suggests.
First published 06 August, 2019
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