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  • Eugene McGarrell

Why delegate customer engagement to robots? It doesn't make sense.



5 tips to humanise the customer experience


When we call out bank, our phone company or any service these days we are greeted but an automated message. We are then shepherded through several questions by the automated voice to place us in the right queue for the problem we want fixing. Finally, if we are lucky, we get to a real person. A sigh of relief as we can be heard by a human who responds just like a human.


The feeling of being nudged through the triage doors leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t feel valued, I feel like a nuisance and I think about changing my provider. But of course, they’re all at it now.


I don’t feel valued, I feel like a nuisance and I think about changing my provider. But of course, they’re all at it now.

So why do companies choose to outsource their first customer experience to a robot? Cost and responsiveness, I guess. But that cost has now been passed on to me. I am the one that is inconvenienced, and I am the one that has lost 20 minutes "on hold" listening to banal muzak.


Is my time not valued anymore? And then I get an email asking me to complete a survey on how satisfied I was with the service. ARE YOU SERIOUS?


My experience with these services is one thing but what is the opportunity cost to the business. The space between the business and the customer is occupied by robots. The moment of engagement is an opportunity for the business to relieve any anxieties, it's an opportunity for the business to create a positive experience me and it’s an opportunity for the business to understand me.

The space between the business and the customer is occupied by robots.

As companies embraces automation this gap may in fact widen. There are algorithms available now that can discern our accents, our moods, our gender and other characteristics that will inform the automated system to guide us to a specific caller. To better meet our needs. Well that’s the theory.

But I wonder if automation of customer service is going to cost business.

Business is changing and automation is a fact of life. Automation is going to change the face of the workplace and it’s happening now. But I wonder if automation of customer service is going to cost business.


The art of sensemaking is a skill we develop over time. We use our senses to pick up information, we use our brains, hearts and guts to process that information and we learn to be mindful to respond tactically. Many go through life without developing this skill and others reflect in order to build their emotional intelligence capability. But the capability of sensemaking is going to be a capability that will give people the edge over others.

But the capability of sensemaking is going to be a capability that will give people the edge over others.

This is also true of organisations. The moment of engagement is an opportunity that should not be delegated to a robot. The space of interaction between customer and business is rich with information. Information that an algorithm is ill equipped to gather.


Fortunately, we might be seeing a U-turn by services. The NSW Government’s “Service NSW” delighted me when I went to renew my driver’s licence. I was greeted by a human and not a ticket machine. The human was polite and engaging. My mood was lifted immediately. I felt valued. I loved the experience even though the waiting time was probably the same as previous visits.


More services including banks are using concierges as they begin to understand the power of human contact. The impact to create a positive experience for the customer but also the opportunity for the business to sense their customers. To understand the people using their services.

More services including banks are using concierges as they begin to understand the power of human contact.

Sensemaking is a powerful tool for all services. Knowing customers and potential customers has always been an advantage. Designing services to that knowing is the key to success. Market research provides only a part of the story. The context, culture and place for people must also be sensed to get a real understanding.


So how do services do that?


1.      Lose the automated response. Humanise the experience for the customer when they call your business. Have real people, from the local area, who understand the local context to pick up the phones.


2.      Lose the call centres. Creating a battery hen environment for the people who will eventually pick up the phone does not enhance the customer experience.  


3.      Create opportunities for all employees to sense the customer. Every employee including the CEO take equal turns on the phones. This is an opportunity for everyone to engage with the customer, to learn the operations of the service and to sense their customer base.


4.      Embed the business in communities. Use the technology to create a presence across the community. Employ people from the local community so that understand the place and context of customers. Localise function and create employment opportunities for people in rural and remote areas.


5.      Partner with local community managed organisations. This is an opportunity to understand culture, place and context. An opportunity to invest in social impact and to create economic opportunities for vulnerable communities.


As automation takes over the administration of processes and systems, businesses and services will have the opportunity to humanise and localise their offering. Automation may in fact bring back the human face of business and service and provide jobs where jobs will be lost due to automation.


Human2Human businesses and services are hopefully the future.


Eugene McGarrell coaches people, teams and organisations in transition.

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