From jobs across the insurance and banking industries to builders, farmers and taxi drivers, we are – apparently – going to see people increasingly replaced by technology. Automation, AI and robots have a big future, with consultancy firm PwC predicting that as much as 30% of jobs in the UK may be under threat from AI in the next 15 years.
Some of this feels very reminiscent of ‘vaporware‘ hype, a trend particularly associated with the 80s and 90s, where tech companies would announce exciting product features or capabilities that never actually appeared. But the diversity of these potentially ‘expendable’ roles is fascinating, and there is no doubt that massive investment is being made to try and turn ideas into reality. Time will tell.
My own industry – cloud and Internet services – is an interesting example. As a market sector, we are early and enthusiastic adopters of innovative tech. But while more automation is having an impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of key areas such as IT security, what we aren’t seeing is any realistic prospect for technology fully replacing the human ability to provide really great customer service.
One of the challenges could simply be that delivering good service is just really difficult – no matter how it’s provided. Companies make the most terrible customer service mistakes every day, and a quick look at Twitter shows how widespread the challenges are. It’s an incredibly important part of the whole customer experience, and is often the main reason why as consumers, we take our business elsewhere.
Indeed, some organisations build start-up success around amazing customer service. But with success often comes the need to scale and a personalised, tailored customer service strategy is not easily distilled into an automated replacement.
Why is it so important? Many believe that customer service should be at the heart of every organisation, but clearly this is not the case for all businesses if the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index is anything to go by. According to the survey, 58% of people surveyed feel underappreciated by the companies they do business with.
For any business interested in growth, customers should be at the heart of their approach. The best way to retain and gain customers is by ensuring that they have great experiences before, during and after each purchase. Building a happy, loyal customer base is the fuel for increased success and can also bring in new business through word of mouth and recommendation.
But according to the Aspect survey, 49% of consumers stopped doing business with at least one company in the preceding 12 months due to poor service. In an age where most companies are facing more competition than ever before, losing customers to poor service isn’t a sensible option when winning new ones can be so challenging.
Ultimately, what seems to really matter to people about customer service is that specific human element. It matters that when a customer needs help, a real person is able to understand their specific problem and fix it for them. In many cases, it’s also incredibly important that a customer service relationship is in place where, as a customer, I can talk to someone who knows who I am and what I need.
What I often see is that people are keen to make the comparison between what they see as ‘real’, personal customer service and arms-length, aloof and automated tech substitutes that don’t get the job done. Tech tools are certainly vital and deliver a huge amount of efficiency, but as it stands today they are better at supporting human intervention than replacing it.
For many organisations, the decision as to much how they automate customer service in the years ahead will be about cost savings, and whether automated customer service becomes good enough to suffice. For others, the essence of great customer service – showing that the business genuinely cares about its customers – is too fundamental to mess with.
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