Is the human factor dying in customer service?

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic-powered lockdowns and preventive measures, most companies were forced to ramp up their digitalization efforts. That also meant that a lot of the business interactions moved from brick-and-mortar stores into the online realm. And even when the pandemic ends the move toward digital solutions will still continue. Therefore, most of us would be then forgiven for asking the question if the human factor is dying in customer service.

While digitalization is on the rise some customers are still traditional

Digitalization has the greatest impact on the human factor. That is especially true, especially for English-speaking and Francophone countries. Digitalization is faster in those countries compared to smaller ones due to the fact that products are developed for wide-spread languages in mind. Meanwhile smaller European or Eastern-European countries with niche languages have to wait until technologies are shared and adapted into their language. 

While a lot of businesses have digitalized their offerings, allowing people to do most of their shopping and interactions through digital channels, it bears mentioning that there are still many people that prefer the traditional brick-and-mortar stores. They prefer meeting a real flesh and blood human being when interacting with the company. When it comes to customer relationship management, CX clearly shows that interaction with staff is one of the key drivers of both customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. That is not going to change in the near future. 

For example, businesses are trying to motivate people to pay their bills online and charge extra if you attempt to pay it at the branch, however, some people are still willing to pay the extra charge just to pay the bills to a real person. That is because they distrust the online systems. 

Digitalization isn’t autonomous yet

Although movies love to depict AI and machine learning in fantastical ways where a robot can teach itself new skills and responses within hours if not minutes, the reality is far tamer. A chatbot or voice bot uses algorithms to learn, and it needs to be fed tons upon tons of information before it can start responding to your questions correctly. 

Well, there are bot trainers who feed these algorithms and check the correctness of the data outputs, so there is quite a significant learning curve for that bot before it starts to be useful. 

At the start of the digitalization era, it was estimated that a bot would need the support of 30-50% of resources which is replaced, and that’s describing a bot that manages relatively simple calls.

Digitalization costs money

The financial goals of a company often come head-to-head with plans for digitalization. To start the process, you need to invest a lot of money, which you will be paying off for a long time. At the same time, you’re still paying the wages of first-line employees that are working at the touchpoints and interacting with your customers. 

These same employees will also be responsible for convincing your customers to transition to your digital services and channels. So, during the ramp-up period which can last up to a few years, you will be both investing in digitalization and paying your employees which can put a strain on the company’s finances. Often for smaller companies, this simply isn’t a feasible activity. 

Bots aren’t equipped to handle complex problems yet

Most large companies that serve various markets work with a variety of languages. For the most part, they have solved automated responses in these languages for simple tasks like activating and deactivating services or paying bills. However, more complex requests still need to be handled by human employees. These employees can ask further questions try to understand the client and in turn, the client trusts them to solve their problems and appreciates their efforts. 

However, if a company would want to go the route of digitalization with these processes, it will need a hefty investment and a very elaborate system for the bots supported by data scientists and analysts, who will keep fine-tuning both the processes and bots. Additionally, there will always be requests that will have to be handled by employees. To sum it up if you would want to fully automate everything the costs would be so astronomic that it wouldn’t really make sense to invest in it.

Invest rather in good employee engagement software which will bring your employee satisfaction to a new level. And satisfied employees equals satisfied customers. Employee motivation management is still not out of date. 

For example, after the audit of one company, the recommendation was to replace call center operators with an IVR system. However, the company found that it was more cost-effective for them to pay 50 call center operators handling call transfers than to implement a whole new IVR system. 

Processes are overcomplicated

Even big players are struggling with fulfilling customer demands quickly. Most people probably have experience shopping on huge online marketplaces. Often, when they need to solve a problem, they need to sift through too many self-service questions, which should help them solve the problem or set them on the right path to solve it. However, too often, people get lost going through that process, because they can’t find the answer they are looking for. 

By the time you clicked through most of the questions, you’re annoyed, tired and just one to talk to someone who can simply solve the problem with you. Someone, who you can simply describe the problem to, and they will jump in and try to solve it with you to your satisfaction. So, in the near future, if there isn’t some super effective AI, that can answer your questions while you’re typing it, people will still predominately prefer interacting with a real employee, who will be able to answer their queries, reassure them and maybe even drop a joke or two. 

The human factor isn’t dying

Simply put, the human factor isn’t dying out in customer service, and it won’t in the near future. The human approach has something digital technology doesn’t – a human face. Customer service employees have compassion, empathy, and understanding for customers, something a bot or a digitalized service cannot offer. They can empathize with customers and beyond apologizing for a mishap and offering a solution, employees can give customers hope and reassurance. 

In other words, companies that want to have very loyal customers and high customer experience and satisfaction at their touchpoints can never have the touchpoints fully digitalized. Employee interaction will always have one of the biggest impacts on customer satisfaction.

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