Will humans be supplanted by automation? Are we really approaching an era where artificial intelligence can do anything a human can? In the customer service industry, some might say yes. Whether it’s conversational AI that makes you feel comfortable or that many in the UK believe that AI is the wave of the future for customer engagement (which might have a little something to do with a recent airline issue), it seems that AI is on the rise. Yet, there are things that humans are uniquely designed to do, particularly in the area of customer experience.
At Humach, we recognize the power of combining humans and machines to improve customer experiences, while keeping in mind the delineation between what technology can do and where humans should step in. Our President, Sean Charnock, sums it up with one word – empathy.
“Anything that requires empathy at a discussion level is not going to be an answerable question from automation,” said Charnock. “Automation provides yes or no answers or can use a mathematical equation to get to an exact answer. When the issue is gray regarding what the caller does or how they go about finding a resolution, then a human should be involved.”
Transactional needs, such as resetting a password, looking up a credit card balance, or checking the status of a flight are ideal tasks for automation. The current technology delivers this information in a friendly, conversational way, even pulling up information from your account based on your phone number so the experience seems personal.
“The challenge with automation is the ability to pivot inside a discussion. When you think about technology pathways, there is not a directive embedded to support making an adjustment,” said Charnock. “Conversations may start off going from point A to point B and then suddenly diverge to point C. That is where human empathy and intelligence is necessary.”
Automated responses alone can’t meet the experience your customers demand. Our 2020 Customer Study outlines key strategies for exceeding your customers’ expectations.
The Power of the Human Touch
Every industry can take advantage of the combination of humans and machines, if the customer journey is well mapped. For example, airlines make it easy for you to find your flight times, book flights online, and set alerts to notify you of changes. But if you need to discuss a bereavement policy or some other scenario where a cascade of discussions occurs without a finite path, the human touch is needed.
Charnock shared client scenarios that showcase how the Humach team improves the human element of the equation.
“We have clients in the security sector where their customers want to know the benefits. For example, if the person is an existing customer and wants to understand why they should remain a customer, the agent must provide the proper answers to keep that customer,” said Charnock. “If someone wants to become a customer and desires all the benefits, the agent would need to take all the components of the profile and shape that into the right bucket or program. Technology is not well-suited for these types of transactions.”
Charnock also shared the need for the human touch for their medical sales clients, where speaking with doctors and their staff require shaping offerings on the fly from thousands of products.
“The conversation requires shepherding to ensure that the physician and team receive what they desire. We don’t call them with a good, better, best pre-packaged offering,” said Charnock. “We are catering to their specific needs, providing options, and transferring knowledge.”
If there is any skepticism about the need for human touch in customer engagement, our recent article regarding customer experience around the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, along with Amazon’s prior acquisition of Zappos, is a powerful case study showcasing the need to combine high-touch customer service with technological innovation. There are many examples of Zappos customer service going above and beyond, from a multi-hour call where the agent ordered the customer pizza to an agent who picked up a customer at the Las Vegas airport and transported them to their hotel. The culture at Zappos is focused on the high-touch customer engagement not call times or transactional innovation.
“Zappos wanted to focus on the quality of the customer engagement. Consequently, they chose to empower their agents to do whatever it took while going above and beyond,” said Charnock. “We feel that is a powerful model and take a lot of pride in enabling our team to be an integral part of this process as well. They are enabled to assist in 100 percent of the action, which ensures they feel they can do a great job. It’s the path to an overall positive customer experience.”
Obviously, the human touch is powerful in providing positive customer experience, and so is innovation, when used effectively. That is not the case for every industry and every application.
You Can’t Automate Emotion
While Zappos chose to use less transactional technology and Amazon chose to use it extensively, there still seems to be some debate in other industries about when and where to deploy technology versus utilizing contact center agents.
Charnock and Tim Houlne, CEO here at Humach, agree that a factor to consider when deciding on the best use of technology is that AI is more augmented intelligence, not artificial.
“There are many industries, for example the airlines, that have deployed technology to assist with transactional requests and still have not empowered their agents with the same information,” said Charnock. “When I call and the AI knows my name from my telephone number, can give me information I request, such as miles on my account and my next itinerary, that information should then be easily passed on to the customer service agent. Often it is not, and I must provide information to a person that the machine already knows. That’s not a great experience.”
Charnock believes it is the job of the technology to “know” all the customer details, and then provide those details to the contact center agent to improve the conversation.
“We want to leverage the technology to provide details that personalize the customer experience. For example, if Joe orders his clothes online, now the agent can pull up his historical purchases, buying preferences, and then make note that he is changing some of them because he’s gained weight,” said Charnock. “We term this prescriptive analysis. Now the agent can be prescriptive because all the variables are known.”
The airlines are not the only industry to lack synchronization of information and are certainly not alone in having a piecemeal approach to customer experience. Charnock would provide this advice to organizations trying to align their technology and agents for improved customer experiences:
“Think like a customer. If you have clearly identified your customer up-front through technology then don’t pass that information seamlessly to a contact center agent, you have a gap from a logic perspective that requires a bridge. It’s important to align the technology team’s mission with the customer service mission. That would be the first step.”
Charnock knows that no matter how powerful the technology, there is always an important role for humans.
“You can’t automate emotion, and you cannot underestimate the emotion of the person that is seeking a solution,” said Charnock. “For me, there’s a little coldness that comes along with automation. It’s fine when I need a basic answer to a question, but when I really have a need for someone to understand an issue that is not easily explained, it’s going to take a person to complete the transaction. That empathy will continue to drive why humans are needed in this entire process.”
Our culture ensures that the customer service mission is front and center, while aligning it with technology to provide excellent experiences for the customer.