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Does Customer Service Still Need a Human Touch?

Does Customer Service Still Need a Human Touch?

Technology is constantly altering how we do business. Big data and AI have made it possible to collect and parse through massive amounts of information quickly, allowing businesses to streamline their operations. Businesses like Amazon and Netflix live and die by new technology, as the only reason they are able to be a success is by embracing change.

One facet of business that is seemingly safe against the inexorable march of technology is customer service. When customers have issues or need assistance, they like to feel cared for and enjoy a personal touch. But is that still true? Are we rapidly approaching a world wherein customer service needs are entirely automated?

How Technology is Changing the Landscape

Generally, technology has a positive net impact on business, both for consumers and employees. AI and automation can make life easier for employees, freeing up time by taking care of menial tasks, simplifying business processes, and reducing overall employee workloads. This in turn improves the customer experience, as happy employees do better work.

Customers are now also able to do immense amounts of troubleshooting and self-service online. Issues that once required either hours on the phone or even a trip into a brick-and-mortar establishment to be resolved, can now be tackled by the customer themselves in a few clicks of their mouse. Individuals who wish to know more about a product before they purchase it now rely on online reviews, either from others who have purchased a product, or used a service before, or from reputable websites.

Advancements in data analytics allow companies to gain insights into their customer base, resulting in a highly personalized digital experience. Analyzing the data pools collected from customers can pinpoint specific interests, what products they look at online, and how long they spend mulling over a purchase. This method, however, is impersonal. While customers are being targeted with a high degree of precision, from the customer’s perspective it can seem cold and calculated, and some even see it as a breach of their privacy.

The Power of People

This inability to really connect with customers is where automation falls short. Science has yet to produce an AI capable of complex emotional thought, as it is generally not a logical process. Until they are able to do so, an empathetic touch can only be achieved by another human being.

Certain professions rely on empathy more than others. Doctors, counselors, and social workers essentially have empathy built into their work by nature, but that doesn’t mean that the ability to display empathy in customer service is any less important. Using empathy when engaging in customer service allows you to pick up on subtle things like body language, voice, and tone, allowing you to suss out the things that are left unsaid. Additionally, you gain a better understanding of the customer, and solving their problems becomes easier as customers generally tend to mirror the empathy you show them.

Empathy is one component in delivering epic customer service, but empathy isn’t the only tool that a human has at their disposal that a program does not. Unlike an automated customer service tool, a real, live human being has the ability to identify areas in which a customer can be positively educated, and you can display a sense of urgency when tackling their problems. All of this leads to a situation in which a customer feels special and personally looked after, which is incredibly important to anyone, not just a customer.

What the Future Holds

Automation and AI-enhanced customer service aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Experts at IBM predict that 85 percent of all customer interactions will occur without a human by 2020, but this doesn’t mean that human customer service agents will be outright replaced. Ultimately, automation is a benefit to everyone, as it saves a company money while lightening work loads for employees and offers customers 24/7 self-service care.

Ideally, going forward, we will strike a balance between automation and human-driven customer service. Working in conjunction can dramatically increase the ability to set and meet customer expectations, implement customer feedback quickly, and maintain constant communication with customers. This will create a streamlined service that ultimately benefits all those involved in it. Technology is the future, but it doesn’t mean humanity has to go away.

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by Devin Morrissey // Devin has been a dishwasher, a business owner, and everything in between. He writes from his garage, occasionally rising to experiment on his friends' cars or do jumping jacks for no reason.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.