At a recent gathering of customer service leaders discussing future digital and AI strategies, we laughed at the tale of a customer’s order for a 7th birthday candle being substituted with a one and a six candle by the robotic picker. Ingenious, yes – but what seven-year-old would want a 16 or a 61 on their birthday cake?
It’s a prime example of automation being effective in theory but failing in practice. In the years ahead there will be an explosion in learning exchange between robots and humans, but the skills needed to ensure we progress to higher standards of service in this evolution (revolution?) requires skills that we perhaps don’t have enough of yet.
Since the dawn of the smartphone, there has been a huge learning curve for us all on technology applications. Technological capabilities are most definitely there to take the heavy lifting. Where most are struggling is best and appropriate application. Companies, and most importantly suppliers of tech, need to be extremely clear on the business problem that needs solving versus a ‘chasing competitors’ mentality.
CCA research in 2019 examined some of the biggest challenges faced by customer experience professionals. Some specific challenges that were identified related to technological investments, suggesting organisations are moving towards making those difficult decisions around where to focus their attention.
The ‘why’ has never been more important, given that public trust in government and business is now at an all-time low. Building trust is critical, as is a constant focus on eliminating ‘friction’ that can cause parts of the system to stop working.
Companies are trying to coerce or nudge customers to switch to cheaper channels of communication and do more for themselves. Depending on how this is sold to us, it can have very different outcomes. If there’s a perceived benefit and a smooth, easy-to-use service, we’ll adapt well; if it’s a clear cost-focused reduction in service, it will likely cause problems.
To change behaviour, we must show customers what’s in it for them. After a few years of trying to get customers to use other channels instead of calling, many brands are faced with increased costs and no reduction in voice contact. Much of this has to do with a failure to identify customer-led efficiencies, or a reason why it is appealing for a customer to change behaviour. There are examples of success beginning to come to the fore, and equally a realisation by others that they are unlikely ever to meet the earlier transition targets as they have been based on unrealistic expectations of how customers actually behave.
There is an overwhelming desire for all organisations to prove the often-burdensome collection of customer data is used genuinely for the benefit of customers and not simply amassed to sell more to them. The rubbing in today’s interactions across all sectors may not be tolerated in future, as new concierge and group purchasing models will spotlight and challenge organisations that continue to build processes around themselves rather than customers. In particular, open banking and shared data in public services are major driving forces towards this shift.
To meet complex consumer needs in a time of uncertainty and change, the human touch in customer contact is critical. While it might be possible to automate routine interactions, sensitive and difficult situations require empathy and understanding – fundamentally human characteristics. As AI and robotics are increasingly used, roles will become more focused around customers who wish to talk to humans rather than voice systems. It must feel individual as the demand for deeper personalisation and richer context around every conversation grows.
It’s a tall order for our network, but many are rising to the challenge.
Anne Marie Forsyth is the CEO of CCA Global Ltd. Progress through to 2021 will be led by CCA visionaries – a group of 40 leading blue-chip and public sector brands committed to developing and delivering new thinking. For more information on how you can participate, please get in touch.