Sorry Robots: Humans Crave Humans in Online Interactions


Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer, Gongos, Inc. 

If a quarter of your customers would rather stand in line at the grocery store—and even take a trip to the DMV—than interact with your company, then your digital strategies aren’t measuring up to their investment.

A recent survey by Gongos found that 25 percent of Millennials would rather spend three hours at the DMV, and more than 50 percent of women would rather wait in line at the grocery store than deal with a company’s automated customer service system.

For businesses—both start-ups and established alike—competing in an increasingly customer-centric world means not cutting corners when addressing the needs of customers. To cultivate brand advocates, it is more important than ever to provide human connection—not automation—when it comes to customer interactions.

The Current Digital Frontier

In a world with unlimited technology resources and limited budgets for human capital, it can be enticing for entrepreneurs to gravitate toward innovative approaches when it comes to operational efficiencies. However, while AI was supposed to be a cost-effective way to eliminate repetitive tasks by humans, many entrepreneurs forgot one big thing: interacting with human beings is anything but repetitive. Instead of improving customer service, chatbots have removed human touch from the equation, and that won’t cut it for most customers.

A PwC study found that 90 percent of companies didn’t view creating better experiences for customers on the digital front as a priority, and our own research points to exactly that.

Gongos surveyed over 300 U.S. adults aged 23-74 and the results show that across all ages, human interaction truly matters to customers. The study found 74 percent of Boomers and 61 percent of Millennials agree that a positive person-to-person connection with a company greatly influenced their perception of the brand. By relying fully on an automated service, companies lose an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and actually service customers in ways that make them lasting brand advocates.

Bringing the Human Back into the Equation

Though some startups may not be in a position to staff an entire customer service team, they can integrate AI technology into a lean in-person service team to meet the needs of the customer. This can happen in three ways: the bot starts the conversation and hands it off to a person; AI behind the scenes assists human agents; or a bot responds with human supervision.

A bot chat can be effective for answering the most basic, initial customer questions, but when the customer has a complicated issue, or begins to show emotion, it needs to transfer the customer to a human. AI can make your agents seem smarter and offer better service by suggesting things, like a special program that would fit the customer. If you have a human monitoring bot chats, the person can step in if the conversation is too complex for the bot. The human agent can also record the problem so the AI system can learn and translate better the next time.

Whether you integrate AI or go with a traditional customer service model in your business, when your staff is interacting with customers, you want them focused on these three key areas:

Forget the Scripts

The first step to authentic, customer-centric service is to ditch the script. Agents need to be able to react and provide personalized service to your customers. Following a script can hinder this and your customer knows when they’re being read generic lines. Hire for emotional intelligence and train your employees on the basics so they have the knowledge to address questions, but the freedom to establish rapport and a personal connection with each client.

Inject Empathy

Customer service agents need to be able to recognize your client’s tone and emotions in order to understand the best course of action. This is especially imperative when the customer is disappointed or frustrated. Even the most sophisticated AI systems are called ‘artificial’ for a reason—emotional intelligence will never be their strong suit.

Always Put the Customer First

At the end of the day, interaction with your frontline customer service representatives forms the impression a person has of your brand. Training and empowering your employees to make real-time decisions in the interest of being more customer-centric is key. Take for example Ritz Carlton hotels, which permits any employee to solve a customer issue to the tune of $2000. Giving frontline employees that power means they don’t have to seek out supervisors and can solve issues quicker and seamlessly.

The Takeaway

When it comes to customer service, entrepreneurs must remember not to take the human service element out of the equation. Though it might seem more advantageous for a startup to abandon traditional approaches and use technology to reduce cost-to-serve and “get in front of” customer needs, research shows that could be detrimental to your success.  After all, humans are truly the most complex neural networks known today—and it’s unlikely that robots will ever catch up to the wisdom of the human language.

As published in MarTech Advisor, Marketing LandMarTech Today.