Humans vs robots: The role of technology in customer experience today

09 Oct 2017

  • Customer experience
  • Technology

For a growing number of brand interactions, Google Home, Apple’s Siri or a customer service chatbot may be the most important influence on customer decision making. So where does that leave the role of humans in improving customer experience? This prompted a thought-provoking debate at ADMA’s recent Customer Experience Town Hall in Sydney.

Salesforce’s Fourth Annual State of Marketing found marketing leaders expect a 53 per cent year on year growth in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) over the next two years. Marketing automation and guided selling are also expected to rise. In the case of AI, 57 per cent expect chatbots and AI interfaces will ‘substantially impact’ automated social interactions and subsequently customer experience.

But in the absence of any kind of human engagement, are brands still adding value to the advice and guidance needed to make a purchase decision?

Tech as the enabler

Algorithms can generate impressive, personalised customer experiences – as Amazon and Pandora have shown. But while technology plays a role in shaping experience, it isn’t the experience in itself.

AI devices will provide new ways to measure and track customer experience, and also give customers more options for resolving an issue quickly – without the friction of waiting on hold for a customer service operator. Over the next five years, most marketers believe AI can improve their productivity and allow for hyper-personalised content, product recommendation and customer journeys – and at scale according to the Salesforce research.

“There are times we do not want to talk to a person about a problem,” eHarmony’s Managing Director Nicole McInnes told the Town Hall audience, admitting she loves her Google Home. “There are times we do not want to talk to someone about a brand, product or problem, we just want to solve it quickly. If we can get that done with a chatbot we will.”

Tech may be the right answer when it’s a ‘hygiene’ purchase or self-service process. “But for higher value purchases, like a car or house, technology will be an enabler rather than a predictor, and less important,” said Kerr Maclean, General Manager Customer Insights & Customer Care with Specialty Fashion Group.

As natural language ability continues to improve, perhaps we can have an increasingly human-like interaction.

However, Strativity Group’s Director Lachlan Austin warns that marketers risk ignoring what matters most to customers if they focus purely on the touchpoints that generate lots of data. He told ADMA’s CX Town Hall, “Data could be shielding us from the more involved, difficult and personally enriching process of developing the human connection which is enabled by data.”

People create the emotional connection

It’s clear we still need to overlay human context across any data to make it meaningful.

“Don’t sacrifice humanity at the ‘altar of the algorithm’ just because you’ve invested so much in it,” added Lachlan. “I’ve personally never had an ambition of being ‘predicted’ by a company. I have, however, wanted to be understood, valued, empowered or uplifted in my experience. So if the data can allow a human to deliver those things then we’re winning. But if I feel like a line of code, then maybe it’s taking us backwards.”

According to Forrester, Australian brands focus on ease and effectiveness at the expense of emotion within their customer experience. NICE’s Solutions Consulting Manager, Cameron Adams, commented, “We don’t get a richness of data into customer’s emotional states when they deal with us.”

And perhaps that’s the missing link between machine learning and human empathy.

Interested in more insights from ADMA’s CX Think Tank? Read our whitepaper, Building CX programs for the future.

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