The rise of the robots

The rise of the robots

I read a really interesting article in the Harvard Business Review which focused on the changing face of human interaction in customer service as we use self-service options more and more.

The article said that  81% of customers now choose to try to take care of their issue themselves rather than contact a company or advisor.  Consumers are increasingly using self service options like apps to complete simple tasks or ask simple questions.  Would you queue to check in at the airport desk or would you check in online or via a self-service kiosk?

Customers don’t need live help if self-service channels are simple and intuitive, but what I find interesting is where the line is between this and the need for highly trained customer service representatives. By definition, if customers are handling their own simple queries, then the questions they direct to advisors become increasingly demanding – the more complex issues they can’t solve on their own.

So then we need to ask  – where do Artificial Intelligence tools, Chatbots, Robots (whatever you might call them) add to and enhance customer experience and at what point does a customer need to experience the human touch?

We’ve seen examples of where AI (or Artificial Intelligence) has accelerated beyond human capability – famously IBM’s “mega brain” Watson trounced human contestants in a game of the popular US quiz show Jeopardy.

Similarly, AlphaGo, developed by Deepmind, created much debate and speculation, as it was the first time that a computer program has beaten professional masters in the ancient game of Go.

We are all fascinated by the sci-fi possibilities offered by AI in the future, and chatbots are the most recent wave of AI, applied in the context of customer service.  But we’re just scratching the surface. At home, we all know and love Alexa, despite the fact that the majority of our interaction has been to use Alexa to set a timer for cooking or to turn the music up.

Chatbots are used across many markets – banking, travel and retail to name a few, and so consumer expectations are set by multiple experiences in their everyday lives as customers.

The key to great customer service is answering a customer’s query when, where and how it suits them.  This means operating  in the context of the world (or platform) they’re in – whether that’s via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or live queries via your our own channels.  Chatbots are available 24/7 365 days a week, exactly at the point a customer wants to engage with us.  Former Uber developer Chris Messina coined the phrase ‘conversational commerce’, which he says “…is about delivering convenience, personalisation, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.”

Great customer experience is subjective, individual and deeply personal.  Chatbots far from eliminating a personalised experience, can help drive great experience.  The speed and ease with which a customer can answer their own query can spare them time and effort. But in a world of self-service, talented and well-trained customer service representatives matter more than ever.  They understand customers’ needs and frustrations, and respond decisively.  They recognise that a customer is likely to have taken steps to resolve an issue or query themselves, and that at that point, they want human expertise and creativity – and a solution to the more complex issues they can’t solve on their own.