Why Does Real Human Interaction Still Matter in Customer Service?

You’ve had this happen a hundred times. You need to make a call or chat to somebody, whether it’s your bank, the auto repair shop, or your insurance agency. You pick up the phone to make the call or open the chat and suddenly, someone – or rather something – picks up and answers. It’s a call center automated phone system (IVR) or a chatbot flow, maybe an AI in the backend. Whatever machine it is, you immediately either exit, hang up or dial 0 to get to a human operator, someone who really understands your problem.

Why Does Real Human Interaction Still Matter in Customer Service?

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You’ve had this happen a hundred times. You need to make a call or chat to somebody, whether it’s your bank, the auto repair shop, or your insurance agency. You pick up the phone to make the call or open the webchat and suddenly, someone – or rather something – picks up and answers. It’s a call center automated phone system (IVR) or a chatbot flow, maybe an AI in the backend. Whatever machine it is, you immediately either exit, hang up or dial 0 to get to a human operator, someone who really understands your problem.

Automated call centre services, including the popular chatbots have become standardized across a variety of different industries as a form of outsourcing. AI is helping chatbots work better, while live voice AI solutions are yet to come. Large businesses now use a combination of Machine Learning and humans to handle customer-service operations, handling emails, texts, chats and phone calls. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of global customer interactions are handled by some sort of automation and artificial intelligence. And according to SalesForce, 53 percent of service organizations globally will make the switch to an automated call centre by the end of 2022. However, this does not mean that humans will become entirely replaceable in a call centre. Here are some reasons why:

Humans can have empathy. Robots can’t.

Oftentimes when customers are on the phone with a call center they do not want to be having a long conversation. They want understanding, and an immediate resolution if possible. For example, if a customer is calling about a broken product, they are already angry or irritated. Speaking with an automated “algorithm” is likely to aggravate this pain point.

Humans can have empathy. Robots can’t.

According to a recent survey by Forrester, the primary reason that customers prefer speaking to an agent over a robot is that human agents can better understand their needs. In part, this means that consumers are more likely to come away with a positive experience by talking with another human and humans can empathize with each other.

“Today’s automation with call center services is causing an impersonal disconnect for the caller and is a disengaging customer service experience for consumers using these services,” operations manager Jordan Deyong said. 

“When a consumer has contact with live customer service professionals the interaction created is an engaging experience where a value is now associated with the call for the consumer”

Humans can make real-time decisions relevant to the pain points

In some scenarios, to keep a customer, it requires being able to express sympathy and to make quick decisions to help appease the customer. Most automations are quick to respond, but unable to execute difficult or unusual tasks and many require the actual customer to provide clear and valid inputs in order to function. 

I was speaking with a friend of mine who recently had to make a call to get their driver’s license renewed. They had the option of speaking with either an automated phone system or an agent. However, because her license was expired, the IVR would not recognize her license number and she ended up needing to be transferred to an agent anyway. Otherwise it’d be a catch 22.

Automated call center systems have a preset number of options either tied to keywords, expressions, a voice command or a button press. Designed by a definite number of cases. Machine Learning definitely helps to detect intentions better and increase the number of relevant responses, however even a simple request can be too complex to a robot if it’s worded “out of scope”. This means that chatbots will respond with irrelevant or even annoying answer without adequately responding to customer needs. The same Forrester poll cited that a majority dislike speaking to chatbots because they cannot deal with complex requests or deliver personalized offers. 

After the recent Rogers outage, the largest telecommunications company in Canada, a different friend of mine wanted to change phone plans from Chatr (which uses Rogers’ internet network) to a Bell plan. 

However, after talking with an agent, he was put in touch with a decision maker who was able to give him a better plan and convinced him to stay on. Being able to make human-focused decisions like this can help to keep a customer and ties back into human empathy and relationships. If you can empathize with someone you can likely leave a customer satisfied even despite an unpleasant prior experience.

Humans can learn from their experiences

The ability to recognize and make quick and relevant decisions is also tied to experience. 

The customer service professional will have trained and active listening skills that will cater to any inquiry. This gives the company the opportunity to meet and exceed the caller’s expectations with positive results,” operations manager Jordan Deyong said.

Call centre agent working on his computer with colleague next to him

Because automation can only recognize a selection of inputs, they can make the best guess of intentions based on programming, but they cannot truly learn from their experiences. Rather they have a preset number of canned or combined responses and cannot internalize comprehensive learning. While there are algorithms being trained using artificial intelligence, it can take years to be fed enough data to learn what would take a human hours to learn in contrast. And the results aren’t always satisfying, and the personal connection is certainly missing.

“With an in-person solution being administered during the call it can be considered a ‘win’ for both the consumer and the company because it creates retention and loyalty due to the customer service experience,” Deyong continued.

Customer experience is the key point here. Experience is both what you feel in the moment, as well as what you take away from the event. Only human agents can give customers a positive experience with the best chance, as they have the empathy to understand emotional circumstances, capacity to learn from these prior experiences and simply the ability to see the big picture. At the end of the day, we need to leave customers with positive emotions that lead to customer satisfaction.

Conclusion

Chatbots are popular because a lot of business owners see them as a “quick fix” to having human agents handle their customer support. This view extends from the idea that having a chatbot service would be less expensive than a live service. However, business owners need to ask themselves about what the downsides of this technology are. What is the “value proposition” of using a less expensive, but ineffective service if it cannot retain customers? Are you really saving money with a quick solution?

In this regard, human agents won’t be supplanted by chatbots or fully automated AI call centers, and real human interactions will be even more valuable for the future in earning trust of your customers. When it comes to learning, empathy and making real-time decisions, human agents will continue to be an integral part of customer service and keeping your customers engaged with your brand.

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