We Still Need To Deliver On The Human Factor In Customer Service
The fear of automation supplanting humans in the workplace has been the stuff of science fiction for decades, but as the pace of technological change picks up, many people have begun to wonder: Is it becoming more fact than fiction?
According to economist James Bessen (subscription required), there has been only one occupation in which humans have been completely replaced by automation in the past 60 years: the elevator operator.
Despite this fact, automation anxieties run high in the contact center industry, which employs nearly 3 million workers (subscription required) in the U.S. Discussions we’ve had with many of the thousands of business and public sector leaders heading up contact centers and operations worldwide prove this to be true. One consistent theme that emerges is balancing improved customer experiences with operational efficiencies.
It’s not uncommon for a large company to handle several million interactions a year, and a contact center can represent a large line item — seemingly ripe for automation to help improve efficiencies and support more cost-effective customer self-service options. However, there’s one big reason humans won’t be disappearing from the customer care landscape anytime soon, and it’s that humans value human interactions too much.
Here are a few instances when the human element should be prioritized in your communications:
When We Have A Complaint
When people have a problem needing resolution, they often want empathy that can only be delivered by other humans. In our company’s 2019 report, “Engagement in the Always-On Era,” which surveyed more than 34,000 consumers in 18 countries, most respondents indicated that when they have an urgent question or complaint, they prefer to speak with someone by phone or in person.
While research and development efforts are ongoing to develop robots that can perceive emotions, a human’s emotional intelligence is still a valued factor in customer communications. By leveraging analytics, you can gain real-time insights into team and individual performance, which can guide your coaching and training to keep agents proficient and engaged when handling customers’ complains.
When Complexity Abounds
Many of us want to interact with a person when dealing with products and services that are complex and have many variables. Take, for example, health insurance. A 2016 survey of 2,000 American health insurance consumers, conducted by Policygenius and Radius Global Research, identified four key terms necessary for a basic understanding of health insurance: deductible, coinsurance, copay and out-of-pocket maximum. The survey found that only 4% of Americans were able to correctly define all four terms. Is it any wonder we need a hand to help us navigate this complex purchase that’s quintessential to our lives and well-being?
A few tips that can help companies handle inquiries into complex products and services include:
• Using knowledge management to enable your agents to find up-to-date information using everyday, common language.
• Displaying relevant knowledge automatically without even having to search for it.
• Establishing guided decision trees to enable agents to efficiently troubleshoot complex issues.
When Dealing With A High-Value Transaction
When the worth of an item is high, there’s often a corresponding emotional investment with the financial commitment. Consider the purchase of a luxury sport utility vehicle or an African safari trip. I find that the larger or more grandiose the item, the greater our expectations that the experience will be rewarding.
A high-worth item isn’t necessarily the same as a high-cost item, although sometimes these things do coincide. Take, for example, an expectant mother trying to determine which doctor and hospital she should choose to deliver her baby, or a family trying to decide which freight carrier should be entrusted to move a family heirloom across the country.
In our own organization, we treasure our VIP customers and make sure they feel valued. At our customer conferences, they are treated to special events such as a VIP luncheon and dedicated experiences where they take home great memories and a few premium gift items as a special thank you for their business.
You may find for your customers that other ideas are useful, such as being part of their community events or sending best practice and industry trend papers.
When Things Don’t Compute
Most organizations have transitioned customer service processes online, yet many calls coming into the contact center stem from the lack of automation and full integration to back-office systems. When processes are only partially digitized and automated, they can fail to deliver on the promise of improved efficiency for both customers and the organization.
To solve for this, companies can consider crowdsourcing customer input through “voice of the customer” programs to pinpoint gaps in processes and flag fixes. A few ways companies can improve their ability to support great digital experiences include:
• Treating every interaction as the continuation of an ongoing dialog.
• Anticipating the evolution of customer expectations.
• Establishing a foundation for the ideal customer experience.
• Thinking of an exceptional customer experience as one that spans the entire journey.
While the need for the human element in customer care still looms large, there’s no holding back the technology tide, with options like automated chatbots and artificial intelligence. While these solutions can improve efficiencies and manage increased call volumes, they should be deployed alongside human employees, ushering in the era of the hybrid workforce in which people and robots work together to achieve goals.
Ultimately, automation — if deployed in a thoughtful way — can open the door to employees being able to spend more time on essential loyalty-creating connections. In an increasingly complicated customer service scenario, this will play a key role in keeping the human element alive and well in the customer care equation.