Customer journeys: How do you know when to choose tech over teams?
For most businesses, introducing technology and automation is now a valid option at every given touchpoint in a customer journey. The question of whether to turn to tech instead of humans isn't could you. It's should you.
With the development of technology that can complete complex tasks like driving vehicles or undertaking delicate medical operations, it would seem logical that many elements in the customer journey might be open to the introduction of machines.
The reality is that most tech isn’t yet sophisticated enough to deliver truly great customer experiences just yet; and there are strategic considerations of whether you should switch, even whe the technology happens to be good.
Customer-focused vs essential tasks
It is vital to spend time assessing customer journeys and derive insights from your customer data in order to provide a practical framework for looking at the tech versus team conundrum.
One method of doing this is to separate your work into two categories: customer-facing and essential tasks. To give retail examples - customer-facing would be the consultation, product recommendation and human interaction of any given transaction.
Essential tasks are the things that the business have to do as a matter of course, such as, putting stock on the shelves, cashing up, cleaning and administration.
Introducing tech - especially robotics and machines - to your essential tasks and processes is often the safest and most effective place to start. Taking out non-essential process work makes good commercial sense and is lower risk, as any tech added is not directly customer-facing but will often enhance the customer journey by proxy.
Tech can be part of delivering tasks that support the customer value, rather than being central to how the brand delivers a differentiated experience. The good news is that there is well established, tried and tested tech available for many of these processes.
Cleaning is a sector where this is best highlighted - there are now multiple providers of robot vacuum cleaners, both commercial and domestic. Robot vacuum cleaners are already in use in offices and hotels and are deployed alongside a human to clean the floor while the human does tidying, dusting and wet cleaning. The addition of machine helps with efficiency which in turn improves the customer journey in various ways despite there often being no obvious customer interaction.
On the flip side...a similar but less successful example might be “Flippy”; the burger flipping robot introduced in Caliburger in the US in 2018.
Flippy can detect when a burger is cooked on one side, flip it and then alert a human when both sides are done. Flippy even knows to keep separate spatulas for raw and cooked food and does a great job of scraping the grill between batches.
What Flippy can’t do is keep up with the efficiency of the humans working alongside it. Super-efficient burger flipping is a lot more skilled than most people give credit for, and subsequently Flippy is yet to take off - seen more as a novelty, rather than a valuable asset to the customer journey.
Looking hard at everything you do to support and enable the customer journey will help you spot the opportunities to switch to tech.
The question to ask yourself when considering a switch for tasks and process is, could you. However, the question is a much trickier should you when looking at customer-facing activities.
There are a few brands that can take risks in this area as they are considered innovators in automation; for example, Amazon Go stores, where tech has entirely replaced the teams. However, for most brands, part of their DNA is tied up with how employees interact with customers.
If customer interaction is at least partly how you deliver value to your customer, you need to consider your journey maps combined with a deep understanding of customer missions and what customers want at each point of the journey – bearing in mind that not all customers will want the same thing.
When you spot that ease and convenience are what the customer wants on their journey, you have found the golden point to consider switching to tech. Otherwise, you need to think extra hard about should you vs could you.
Retail leads the way
There has been successful adoption of customer-facing tech where it genuinely helps the customer do what they want to do. The retail industry has been a leader with adoption of online shopping with multiple fulfilment options, self-check outs to reduce queues and going further to scan, pay go technology where your loyalty is rewarded as you breeze past all the queues.
Quick serve restaurants have taken the simplicity of online ordering to enable app users to pre-order their food for fast pick up. If you want to see this in large scale operation, take a trip to Disney World and experience how fast you get food ordered on the app compared to time spent in slow moving, grumpy queues to order at the counter.
Self-order terminals are increasingly being added in quick serve outlets, they reduce the scrum at the counter and make it easy for customers to look at the menu without being pressured into making a snap decision while squinting at a hard to read board. Outlets have found that as well as tech reducing the number of team members needed at the counter, it also drives sales. Customers who look at the offer on a terminal and make decisions in their own time, spend more.
In service industries there have been great applications of live chat and chatbots to help customers get the information they need quickly and when they need it. When done well, it is much better than trying to navigate a long string of FAQs that don’t quite cover what you want to know or waiting in a queue to speak with a contact centre agent.
Yet too much tech and novelty robotics makes it annoying in those situations when you just need to speak with a person and can be difficult for people who are less tech-orientated. Getting the balance right is essential.
Customers are demanding and being offered more choice than ever before. Not just in the range of products and services available to them; in how and when they interact with brands too.
If you have multiple customer missions and journeys in your business, the answer is tech AND teams – the trick is knowing which to use when.
This article was written by Simon Hedaux, founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity.