The customer service battle: digitalisation vs the human touch

There’s an ongoing battle between digitalisation and the drive to consistently achieve the all-important human touch in customer service.

Chatbots, automation and artificial intelligence are solving the woes of customer service teams — and customers — worldwide. Or so it would seem.

In reality, 64% of consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. (This still in the early days of bots and AI implementation.)

From baffled bots to automation absurdity, bad deployment of customer-facing tech can sabotage both the human touch and the overall customer experience.

So, how can you ensure that you’re using technology effectively, without losing the coveted human touch from your customer service?

The human touch

The human touch in customer service refers to the respect, flexibility and empathy with which customers want to be treated. Technology is efficient, but it often fails on all these subtle service fronts.

Up to 40% of customers explicitly want ‘better human service’.

And implicitly, this means they want that human touch threaded across their customer service experience. Why? Because humans act (and buy) based on emotions.

When customers reach out to businesses, the emotional awareness of the agent makes all the difference. Only a human can pick up on emotional cues and adjust their messages accordingly – upselling to an invested customer or calming an angry one.

If your customers have a good experience, they’ll associate your business with a positive emotion, promoting trust. A bad or emotionless experience, meanwhile, does the opposite.

Trust helps businesses cultivate customer loyalty, and forms a cornerstone of a great customer experience.  Without trust, you won’t be needing a customer support team for long.

Growing digitalisation

Unfortunately, the very nature of human service makes for unpredictability. Since human agents aren’t machines, they can’t work with machine-like consistency and efficiency.

Nor can they remove emotion from the equation. (Emotion is, after all, how customers discern the human touch in a service interaction.)

Humans are fallible on the customer service front. They slip up, they become frustrated, and they can tire of tedious support queries and repetitive answers. This, then, is where digitalisation finds its place.

Technology that can handle routine customer service chores is growing ever more popular. In fact, it’s been estimated that by 2020, 85% of customer service interactions will be handled without a human.

The digitalisation of customer service is gaining ground.

Disruptive technologies

Chatbots, AI and automation are the trio establishing themselves into the customer service scene. A huge bulk of customer service can be handled between the big three disruptors.

Automation, for example, is routing customers to the right place. It’s collecting and processing their data, taking over admin tasks, issuing triggered comms, and generally automating the processes that come with keeping customers onboard.

Meanwhile, AI is getting to know your customers. It’s analysing their wants and needs, and powering new levels of insight.

As for chatbots, they’re the toast of the tech town. Bots are being used to interact with your customers in place of a human agent – and they’re good at it.

All these technologies, in fact, are great at what they do.

For agents, smart customer service tech means less wasted time. And for customers, it means getting prompt, personalised service— no matter when or where.

Unbalanced digitalisation

The problem is, technology isn’t a catch-all customer service replacement.

Software designed to deal with humans, such as chatbots, simply cannot offer the nuances of human touch. Even smarter machine-learning chatbots can struggle.

They might be capable of replicating friendliness. They can be programmed to be respectful and they don’t get provoked by angry customers. But when the respect isn’t enough, the lack of flexibility and empathy will upset more than one apple cart.

Let’s start with flexibility.

Customer service flexibility is important for your customers — it’s the ability of your agents to ‘bend over backwards’ to help them. It’s the way your human team can think around problems and hurdles, and offer acceptable compromises.

Unfortunately, flexibility isn’t something created by following set rules, like those that automation and rule-based chatbots need to function.

No empathy

Then, there’s empathy. There have been developments in AI that help chatbots understand emotion, seen in the emergence of sentiment analysis.

However, while chatbots are beginning to learn how to recognise upset, angry, happy and satisfied customers, they can’t yet respond appropriately.

A chatbot might be able to offer an upset customer a robotic apology, and some form of compensation, but they can’t give emotional understanding.

Instead of appeasing the customer, this can come across as dismissive of the customer’s feelings and situation, making for a bad customer experience.

While technology can help monitor the overall tone of customer interactions, humans still need to provide the empathy.

The human mainstay in the digital workplace

All this doesn’t mean that your chatbot should be scrapped, your AI unplugged and your automation software uninstalled. After all, they provide great benefits to your customers and your team alike.

The key is in striking a balance between digitalisation and the human touch.

This balance is about recognising one key fact: customer service technologies are tools for your human team, not replacements.

It might be tempting to opt for your chatbot over Clive from customer service or Tracy from tech support, but it will hurt your service in the long run.

There’s no need for digitalisation and exciting new tech to exterminate the human touch. You can make use of the benefits that technology offers, without upsetting the customer service apple cart.

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