Human or digital? It’s about right time, right place

As you’d expect we spend a lot of time here at Sigma thinking about what customers want. What keeps them happy, what keeps them loyal?

Businesses and customers alike love the convenience and efficiency of online services, but there are times when real human conversations are hard to beat. How many times have you gone around in circles, trying to resolve a problem online, when you know it could be resolved in minutes by a phone call?

Technological advances can make businesses faster, more efficient, more accurate, and cheaper to run. There are countless advantages that new technology, including AI, can bring to the provision of customer care. We ourselves at Sigma make the absolute most of technology in our day-today business, and our services to customers.

But, as a customer, there are circumstances when I need help, would I want a bot to be solely in charge of finding a solution for me? I don’t think there are many people who, hand on heart, believe we can just hand over all capabilities and responsibilities to AI and trust it completely.

AI enables us to do better

I think we all recognise what AI has enabled us to do better and that it will play a big part in the future of customer service. Many of us use digital personal assistants like Siri and Alexa – the latest versions of which have incredible capabilities and are improving all the time. It’s AI that gives us personalisation on streaming services, such as Netflix, and why Amazon can offer recommended items while shopping.

Within a business context, there’s a lot to like about AI. It doesn’t have a bad day. Sophisticated AI rules out the risks of human error, it’s available 24/7, doesn’t take a break and never has a sick day. It performs consistently and has the potential to transform workflow efficiency across many, many parts of a business. It’s also, ultimately, a cheaper alternative to humans.

But, despite its potential, AI is not always the perfect solution

In its current form, it still has its limitations. We still can’t count on its effectiveness 100%. There’s plenty of case studies showcasing AI fails, where the technology lets people down, sometimes dangerously so.

And, crucially, AI does not perform well when required to display empathy, creative problem solving, or decision making – at least when ethical or moral concerns are at play.

People are not perfect either

Of course, humans have their flaws too. We’re susceptible to the usual stresses that affect performance – tiredness, sickness, home stresses, and various other issues related to fulfilment. Our moods affect our productivity and efficiency. A bad day at work for a customer service representative probably means some customers received less-than-optimum customer care.

The other big issues with ‘human staff’ right now are high turnover and recruitment challenges, meaning many businesses are stuck in lengthy, inefficient and costly recruitment processes, as well as skills shortages.

So, what does this mean for customer service?

It’s very easy to look at the list of potential benefits of technology and be seduced. One of them being cost efficiencies. We all know that technology solutions cost less pound for pound than an agent population, but is that cost saving real if you consider customer satisfaction? If the technology is not providing the experience that customers want, then you are risking losing them to a competitor and who knows what the cost will be to win them back.

Consumers, and that includes people like you and me, are struggling to make ends meet with rising energy prices, rising food costs, and skyrocketing inflation, with a challenging forecast for the winter ahead. This puts incredible stress on us all.

At times like these, consumers need all the help they can get and it’s a natural reaction that, when things aren’t going well, we crave a human connection. I’m talking true empathy, creative problem-solving, and a genuine emotional connection to consumers through meaningful dialogue. We want to know there is a real person, with a personalised approach to finding a remedy that works for just for us.

As businesses, it’s our responsibility to offer help where we can. But how can businesses provide customers with the level of support they need at a cost which is affordable and sustainable long-term?

Getting the balance right

Perhaps it’s better to think in terms of there being a time and a place for digitisation, while the same is true for human connections. Despite the potential flaws that people bring to the workplace, they simply offer many other positives that AI can’t provide.

We must use these qualities to offset the disadvantages of AI – and use the power of AI to supplement people in the workplace to help them perform their roles better.

And let’s face it – we all want the right to choose.  Some people want streamlined experiences without needing to talk to a human. Others want a human to guide them every step of the way. Some people want to choose simply depending on how they feel that day or the complexity of the task at hand.  We should offer solutions that combine humans and technology and apply those assets, as and when needed.

Getting the balance right is a challenge and, most importantly, an opportunity that every business that wants to thrive needs to recognise.

Most businesses haven’t settled on a fixed balance between AI and humans, and it’s almost certain that we can’t think of the right balance as a one-size-fits-all solution either. It will depend on the needs of each industry and business context respectively and how they evolve going forward. And it’s highly likely that the balance will change along with the economic climate, not to mention catastrophic events, such as the pandemic.

But the most important factor is that the customer should dictate the customer experience we provide. What they want is what we should deliver.

At Sigma Connected, we prioritise the human element to ensure your customers will always have great interactions with your company. Download our free whitepaper to learn more about the human touch and how you can transform your customer service strategy

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