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Humans naturally crave interaction with other humans. However, as technology advances, there is an increasing push by companies to automate as much of their processes as possible. While this is understandable, as it saves on costs, the path technology is taking us down could prove to be a double-edged sword.
Think about all the automated technology that you DO like – for example people love Siri and Amazon Echo is a big hit. The technology that people like the most tends to be more personal in nature – such as speedy access to information, organizational utility and home automation -- to name a few. I don’t know many people who like wading through automated phone trees when calling a customer service line, do you? Have you received any phone calls from robots that sound really human? I bet it doesn’t take long for you to tell that it’s not a real human.
My point is that if human interaction is desired, there’s a real difference between do-it-yourself customer service-type tools and forced automation.
The big trend right now is towards chat bots. If you don’t know what a chat bot is it’s essentially customer service software driven by artificial intelligence. It’s designed to interact with customers using chat via the company’s website, via social media, or over the phone. The problem is that humans communicate in ways which a computer program can’t fully duplicate. And, sometimes, that software fails to answer a customer appropriately and cannot assist them with their need.
According to an article on Knowledge@Wharton, it is also difficult for artificial intelligence to correctly interpret what the customer means when they get frustrated if automation is unhelpful and does not offer them the correct options for their situation -- the computer simply doesn’t know what to do.
How does this affect customer loyalty? Companies that automate too much risk a break down in the customer bond which, in turn, decreases the emotional connection that customer may have with a company. Inappropriate or unhelpful automation, while it may seem cost-saving on the surface, could end up being more expensive as customers defect to competitors or stop caring who they deal with. The article gave a great example of how a company went from a customer engagement win without automation to a customer engagement fail due to adopting it.
“When a political consultant got stuck in an Amtrak elevator at BWI Airport last February, she used the Amtrak Twitter account to get help, and help soon arrived. Seven months later, she received this Tweet from Amtrak: “We are sorry to hear that. Are you still in the elevator?”
Imagine how silly that made Amtrak look. It’s sad that this automated Tweet happened as in fact Amtrak quickly responded and helped the customer. How do you think the customer responded when she received that tweet seven months later? She had a field day with it on social media. According to Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed, “when non-human customer service works, it works extremely well; but when it works poorly, it works extremely poorly.”
Nobody is saying that automation can’t be useful to companies by enabling them to assist customers at all hours, or provide do-it-yourself type tools for them. However, businesses should analyze exactly what type of automation can help their company as well as how it will affect any connection to and engagement with their customers. In some cases, they may find that the negative effect in customer engagement outweighs the savings that the automation offers.
According to Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed, “We have a human side, and there is going to be a counter-punch by companies who choose to focus on connecting with customers in a more human way.”
So, while many may choose to save money and adopt technology that replaces humans, offering 24/7 customer service through automation, these companies may find their customers drifting away -- gravitating towards those companies that choose to make their unique value proposition the more personal, human touch.