Getting the balance right between technology and humans

7th January 2020 | Aileen Allkins

Technology has the potential to transform the customer service and support sector, but we must carefully manage the balance between human interactions and technology in order to avoid making our customers feel devalued.  When we impose technology on our customers at the time they need help from our organisation, we must deliver an experience that the customer perceives as easy, fast and effective and we must also carefully consider which scenarios are better served through humans for the benefit of a great customer experience.

When considering any technical advancement in the customer service world, it is vital to ensure humanity remains at the core.  As every customer interaction will impact brand perception its crucial to get it right.

Man vs. Machine

Customer service technology should be developed with the end-user experience in mind – and human nature is central to innovation.

Applications such as chatbots and personalisation tools, learn from customers’ past behaviour to tailor individual service interactions. It has become so “normal” that many customers are happy to interact with a ‘non-human’ customer service agent and often don’t notice that they are not interacting with a real person. Google Duplex AI assistance can make phone calls on a person’s behalf – and people found the calls to be so humanistic that it was difficult to distinguish whether the caller was human or AI. Human-like robot calls however are still regarded with mild suspicion – not least because robocalls are becoming excessive and called American smartphones nearly five billion times in May 2019 alone. It’s important to be careful with the rollout of this technology to ensure it doesn’t alienate customers.

As smart customer-facing technologies are implemented worldwide, it is crucial for AI algorithms and automated processes to take into account the nuances of the regions they are operating in and the unique cultural requirements of legality and ethics. HSBC, for example, has announced plans for a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to ensure its technology is developed safely, ethically and is beneficial for society and this will inform its practices worldwide. This rigorous monitoring, self-regulating and testing must be applied by any company rolling out AI.

Changing habits and expectations  

While AI will radically alter how work gets done and who does it, the technology’s most important contribution will be in complementing and augmenting human capabilities, rather than replacing them. It has been predicted that the acceptance of technology filling traditionally human roles will grow, if it leads to improvements in service, experience and quality of life.

According to Servion Global Solutions’ recent estimate, 95% of all customer interactions will be powered by AI systems by 2025.  In a survey conducted by USABILLA, 54% of people surveyed said they would in fact choose a chatbot over a human customer service representative, which must to some degree be a reflection that speed and ease are priorities for customers. That said, the survey showed that while chatbots were popular with customers, having the option to speak to a customer service representative is still important.

Companies across the world are continually raising the bar with customer service and support experiences. AirAsia announced its new chatbot AVA, integrated with Siri, who will answer questions instantly in eight languages. It follows that if travellers experience such technology from a low-cost airline, they will be disappointed if the more expensive, premium airlines don’t offer a similar experience.  This principle applies across every industry – if companies do not innovate, customers will begin to question if their experience is not a top priority, especially when they see that others are focusing on improving the customer service experience.

Collaborate to innovate

In order to get the most significant performance improvements in customer service, humans and machines need to work together. Technology cannot handle customer service alone especially when there is a need to recognise emotional nuances of a conversation with a customer. What comes as natural to humans, picking up on body language or tone, for example, can be very tricky for machines, and what’s straightforward for machines (analysing gigabytes of data) is near impossible for humans. Both capabilities are required to secure the best results.

Chatbots can empower customers – enabling them to resolve basic issues conveniently and efficiently.  However, when a situation is complex, a personal, human touch is often needed. Forrester predicts that customers may turn against chatbots, especially if they continue be perceived as ineffective – but if companies invest in the human element as well as the technological one, they will be able to avoid this phenomenon and stop customers from feeling what Forrester calls “jaded”.

AI will drastically alter the way customer service is offered, but the bigger challenge will be ensuring that human capabilities are complemented and augmented, not replaced. This is vital to succeed with a future facing customer service proposition.