In the Human vs. Robot debate, Humans still have the upper hand. In this post, we outline why...
We have all heard the bold predictions. A dystopian future awaits us, as rapid developments in technology mean all future human needs will be met with automation.
Today, AI, Robots, Chatbots and the like are incrementally playing a growing role in our everyday lives, be it through interactions with business or personal systems like Alexa or Google Home. Across sectors, organisations are keen to capitalise on the huge potential for cost reduction offered by automating processes formerly performed by people. In fact, according to McKinsey, up to 800 million global workers will have the jobs replaced by robotic automation as soon as the year 2030.
There is clearly an appetite amongst consumers for the convenience automation can offer them. Why would anyone want to call their phone provider when they could check their bill through an app? Why would anyone want to call their bank to change their personal details when they could do this online? For simple requests like these, 64% of consumers will pick digital self-serve channels. But venture into more complex customer journeys and you’ll see that the picture is not so clear cut.
The reason for this is simple. While some processes can- and indeed should- be automated, human touch has a value that robots cannot completely replicate (yet). Here’s why.
Imagine you have an emotional customer enquiry. You are making an insurance claim after a burglary. You’d want to know that the person you are speaking to is sorry and understands your distress.
Now imagine you’d had poor service. You might reach out to the company and complain. But imagine how you’d feel if it is a robot, rather than a human, who tells you they are sorry for you experience.
Customer care is more than just delivering a product or service in a quick and friendly way. It is quite literally caring that you customer’s experience is positive. The problem with automated processes is that their very nature precludes caring. A robot does not have an emotional function. Their logic driven nature and lack of ability to sympathise will mean that they won’t deliver the sincere service that customers value.
For a low value/ low significance purchase, a customer doesn’t need (or even want) a high level of support or to feel they have a relationship with the organisations. But imagine that you customer is looking to make a transaction that will influence the rest of their life, for example taking out a mortgage to buy their first house or choosing their pension plan. In these instances, customers need to feel that they can trust you to give them the best service and advice based not only understanding their requirements, but also their concerns and hopes.
It is through relationships that trust develops. It might be that a service agent is able to build a rapport with them or they have had consistently positive experiences interacting with your organisation. However, robots simply cannot offer this to the same extent as a human agent, and therefore the need for human interaction in customer service still remains.
Robotic decision making is driven through logic. Of course, as technology evolves, the scope and complexity that robots are equipped to deal with will develop both in number and sophistication. But input the same circumstances, and you’ll generate the same output.
What about your customers? Can the same be said of them? Can you guarantee that any two different customers will react in the same way to the same journey? Obviously not. This is because, unlike robots, humans are inherently illogical. Indeed, any one individual might react differently according to a range of unpredictable variables, such as their mood or previous interactions with your organisation.
What’s more, understanding the nuances that typify human conversation is not a task that can be sufficiently performed by any automated programme. Your customers will often fail to express themselves clearly. They speak using slang or sarcasm. I’m sure we have all experienced the frustrating process of telling an IVR which department we’d like to speak to, only to be redirected somewhere entirely different. Equally, customers might change their minds about the service or product they require, or suffer from indecision.
Even if 80% of your customers pass through an automated customer support system, the question about how you continue to serve the rest still remains. Not providing a back-up option, and allowing your customers to go to your rivals, will mean that you miss an opportunity to increase your revenue by 25%.
Automated programmes find their element in simple repetitive work. No human should be assigned to a task that can be performed more accurately and faster by a robot. But sometimes- most especially in complex journeys- problems arise that simply don’t fit the mould and require some creative thought to bypass, for example a customer may fail a credit check. The problem is that automation requires explicit instruction, and factoring in various sources of information from multiple sources can fall outside the scope of a simple input output mechanism.
Take the example of a mortgage journey. These can often be highly complex and depend upon the intricacies of a person’s individual circumstances. While a mortgage broker can think creatively about potential obstructions and suggest solutions that might not be immediately obvious, machines tend to lack the creativity required to be able to do this.
People prefer people
One can question and argue about how far technology will evolve. A different question- though equally significant- is how far humans will accept this technology. Even if we accept technology is likely to develop exponentially, its success will likely also depend on human acceptance of it. In the case of complex, high value, emotional journeys, customers still value the reassurance of a human.
Think about the reasons why you might call an organisation. Is it because you want to speak to an IVR? Of course not. You are doing so because you want to speak to a human.
Ultimately time will be the true test of automation. But it is clear that the prospect of a dystopian future still lies more comfortably within the realms of fiction.
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