Digital transformation is all around us, both enabling and enabled by Artificial Intelligence. It is rapidly changing the face of customer service, marginalizing the role of humans by the day. Does that mean that personal attention as we know it is doomed? The simple answer is no. To the contrary!
We compare and buy stuff online, make payments with our thumb, and receive diagnoses on our watch. Not a single human being involved. And it won’t be long until self-repairing components and self-ordering refrigerators enter our daily lives. The potential of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are evident and much needed to manage costs, scalability and customer expectations. It enables hyper fast, accurate and personalized service. But don’t confuse personalized with personal. There are plenty of situations in which AI simply cannot deliver what’s needed: sincere empathy. And these are often the moments that matter most.
For consumers and businesses alike, AI powered interactions can be very useful and even preferred. Self-service with flawless instant results gives users a sense of autonomy and control. And personalized, even proactive services can make their lives easier. It brings them convenience that pays off in loyalty. In 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2020, 85% of customers will manage their relationship with businesses without interacting with a human. And by now, the possibilities are still advancing fast. We’ve seen some realistic avatars already from Soul Machines and Terre des Hommes , and this is only the beginning.
Heart & Soul
Although increasingly convincing, these ‘digital humans’ still have no heart, soul, conscience or life experience. Their algorithmic authenticity falls short to homo sapiens’ genuine capability to care. When things really matter to you as a customer, you want to feel the sincerity in a response. You want to have the reassurance that you’re valued, and that your point is being taken seriously. You want to hear from a real person that he’s making every effort to fix things. And ultimately, receiving confirmation that thanks to your feedback a product or service got improved. Convenience leads to loyalty, but so does memorable care. Unless companies allow algorithms and AI to autonomously decide on their policies and business models, it still takes humans to cut the cord on change.
Technological singularity may be dawning, but we’re decades away from computers that can match our emotional intelligence. While fully digital customer experiences will be a commodity within years, human-to-human customer experiences will become increasingly rare. And as a result, increasingly valuable. Personally, I am convinced that humans will be the new USP in customer service. Providing the best of both worlds takes a hybrid approach, in which we understand where technology ends and humans come in.
Humans will be the new USP in customer service
When a situation requires personal human attention, AI can still be very useful in assisting live agents. Not by generating copy/paste or approve/edit replies, however. Instead, it should (proactively) auto-execute queries that check and analyze any available data. In complicated cases, this is often the most time consuming part. Next, it should present possible root causes, suggest personalized solutions, and – only where needed – scripted storylines. In all situations the agent should be empowered act upon his or her own assessment. This applies to both online and offline client interactions.
Combine technology (operational excellence) and humanity (customer intimacy), and you have two very powerful ingredients for a profitable business.
It is a matter of finding the right balance and deciding where, when and how we wish to excel with genuine authenticity. What it takes to achieve synergy between AI and humans, is a seamless technological ecosystem and empowered agents with the right mindset.