Emotion, Empathy and Personalisation: How can AI Ever Replace Humans?

June 26, 20196min

There is ever increasing interest in the role emotions play when managing Customer Experience in the contact centre.

At the same time, there is a drive to introduce technology such as chatbots to make customer service teams more efficient; removing repetitive tasks and providing ‘always on’ customer service. These potentially conflicting trends are happening at a time when the demand for customer service is growing, and organisations are fighting to differentiate themselves through their customer service offering. 

A recently commissioned study by Forrester Consulting suggested that 90 percent of customer service leaders agree personalisation is core to the future of automation, and existing chatbot technology is stalling their efforts. The key challenge is to build simple yet personalised experiences for customers.

As Maya Angelou famously said: “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.” If your chatbot or AI solution leaves the customer feeling frustrated or angry because they have to put in more effort to get the answer to what they perceive is a routine query or task, all that is being achieved is an increased chance that the customer will look for an alternative supplier who can make this task easier.

In addition, quite often humans want to talk to humans. A study by PwC found that an average 74 percent of non-US consumers want more human interaction in the future and that 59 percent of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of Customer Experience.

Certainly, there have been strategies employed whereby chatbots are being disguised as humans which can only lead to frustration on behalf of the customer when they find they are being deceived and the bot cannot fulfil their needs for a more emotional or complex issue response. While customer views are constantly evolving, I still think Userlike got it right with their view on avoiding the ‘uncanny valley’.

Organisations need to be up front when a customer engages with them by disclosing that they are talking with a bot, and take advantage of the benefits that can be gained when effectively deploying it for more routine and simple tasks. In addition, they need to give the customer the opportunity to seamlessly switch to a human agent, without the need for the customer to repeat themselves. In short, make it easy, make it simple and, when the customer is speaking to an agent, make it personal.

No one can deny that AI is getting better and better, and chatbots will certainly have their place in our future. A well-designed customer-centric journey will allow the bots to tackle low level tasks, but companies also have to be cautious in blindly launching bots into the contact centre eco-system. When poorly executed the effect upon customers can be detrimental to their overall experience. It’s all too easy to deploy a chatbot that can get stuck in a loop, resulting not only in an increased cost to serve but also a decrease in overall customer satisfaction. 

Hockenbury & Hockenbury in Describing Psychology (1997) described emotion as “a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioural and expressive response”. Delivering customer service for an organisation dealing with often highly emotive subject of money, we have yet to find an AI solution that can effectively replicate the human touch our industry-leading customer service team can deliver. They can handle the simple routine tasks well, but then so can a well-designed FAQ or Help Centre. Until such a time as when chatbots can manage all three psychological states, there will always be a need for humans.

Human agents have a big advantage. They understand compassion, they can demonstrate empathy and they have their own shared experiences of everyday life which continues to become busier and more stressful for us all. In having this unique skill set, the human agent is here to stay and will own the complex matters where a human touch is needed.


Stewart Kitson

Stewart Kitson

Stewart Kitson is Head of Customer Service at SmartDebit.




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