How can technology make your customer experience more human?
In this extract from new book ‘What to do when Machines do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, BOTs and Big Data’, authors Malcolm Frank, Benjamin Pring and Paul Roehrig explain how – contrary to the view that increasing use of technology will sacrifice the human touch – technology can actually help businesses to double-down on being more human, if used correctly.
At the heart of enhancement is the simple idea that nearly every person and job can and must be improved through technology. Every teacher must be an enhanced teacher; every banker must be an enhanced banker; every soldier must be an enhanced soldier. It’s you/your job plus technology.
Of course, many of us use technology to enhance our work already quite extensively, in a pre-AI way. Take the three of us, for example. We write on computers, talk through videoconferencing machines, read on iPads, and hang out in Google. But even for people seemingly at the cutting edge of technology, there are many aspects of work only marginally touched by technology.
New technology could enhance us further: timesheets and expense reports could be automated; Cortana and Amy could automatically set up our meetings and conference calls; we could use our Alexa-enabled Echo wireless speaker to build a Prezi presentation using just a few spoken word clues: “Get an image of a modern building, and overlay on it the latest quarterly results.” The list could go on and on.
The more technology enhances us, the more it creates the opportunity for a human touch. When the computer does what it does well, it allows us to focus more on what we do well: being empathetic, building relationships, and making sense of complex situations.
Think of the last time you went to a rental car counter at the airport. After getting off your long and cramped flight and standing in line at the rental agency for 15 minutes, you finally get to a customer service representative.
Were you met with a warm and welcoming greeting, followed by a quick yet thoughtful discussion of your plans, your car needs, your specific rental, and options? Or did the service agent acknowledge your presence with a grunt, followed by no eye-contact or conversation as he stared into his computer, entering information and clicking through menus for several minutes before producing a three-page contract in triplicate? The three of us travel a lot, so we know the answer: there’s a 90% chance it was the latter.
By driving efficiencies in certain parts of its operations, Pret has doubled-down on being more human.
In the case of the rental car agent as well as thousands of similar roles and processes across all industries, we don’t blame the employee; we blame the company. After all, the company hasn’t armed this customer-facing associate to do his job properly - to be, well, human.
Instead, he’s been saddled with burdensome technology that, after eight hours a day, has bludgeoned the good humour out of him. Instead of getting to the essence of his job - of being the friendly face of the company and ensuring the happiness of a customer - he spends most of his time managing cumbersome systems layered on an archaic process.
This is just one type of situation that can be made more human with the new machine. As next-generation technology relieves this customer service agent’s workload, requiring no more manual entry in a system of record, he will be liberated to provide a truly human touch.
We now see this in many sectors of retail, including:
- Zappos, the leading shoe etailer, for years has been leveraging its customer service department. While Zappos may seem like a tech-first company, it long ago recognised that when customers reached out by calling its call centre, it was the company’s chance to cement a customer relationship. And how far will Zappos go? One particular call lasted 10 hours and 29 minutes! The vast majority of that call wasn’t about shoes at all, but the customer’s interest in life in the Las Vegas area. The Zappos reaction? “Sometimes people just need to call and talk. We don’t judge; we just want to help.” Oh, and yes, the customer did end up purchasing a pair of UGG boots.2
- At Pret A Manger, a quickly growing, high-end, fast-food retail chain, the majority of the food selection in its stores is done by self-service, and the point-of-sale checkout is seamless. But the personality of Pret A Manger is not based on this combination of high-quality food sold efficiently and at a good price. The cornerstone of the customer experience is its floor staff, who are quirky, fun, and engaged. By driving efficiencies in certain parts of its operations, Pret has doubled-down on being more human, in giving customers not just quality food but also an upbeat and positive break in their busy, stressful workdays.3
- Apple has similarly changed the game in retail by radically altering the point-of-sale experience, eliminating checkout counters, and putting automated tools in the hands of its floor staff. With all this automation, what did Apple do? The company doubled-down on more blue-shirted staff who are available to consult with customers, and provide a real sense of humanity in a company mostly selling silicon and bits.4
As shown in these examples, more enhancement actually allows for more humanity.
Where do such opportunities reside in your company?
Start by looking at those customer “moments of truth.” For Zappos, it was when an online order went wrong.
At Pret A Manger, it was when a busy customer simply wanted to grab a sandwich very quickly without being snarled up with other customers’ more complicated orders.
And for Apple, it was when one of their nontechnical customers felt overwhelmed by their powerful machines. In looking for the human touch, don’t just look for moments that are easy. Instead, look to those that are hard, when you truly solve a customer problem with a sense of service and a generosity of spirit.
In an enhanced world of more pervasive technology, activities that humans do well will become even more important in 2020 than today. Analytical, communication, and learning skills as well as the ability to relate to other people have always been and will remain vital for business success. In our recent study of 2,000 global business leaders, respondents said that in the coming years, these very human traits - things we do naturally but that computers can hardly accomplish - will become even more essential in our personal and work lives and for our businesses.
All of us, bosses included, need to enhance our current skills when it comes to engaging with others: leading, reasoning and interpreting, applying judgment, being creative, and applying the human touch. These behaviors and activities are still far outside the purview of current and near-future technologies and will remain so for years to come, even as the new machines become more capable.
Major companies today are proving that even in a world of enhancement solutions, where people and machines work together in new ways, there’s still value in being human. Our work ahead will require us to double-down on the activities where humans have and will continue to have an advantage over silicon.
- Amy is an AI-based personal assistant from x.ai, a VC-funded technology company in New York City.
- “Inspiring Zappos Customer Support Stories,” SlideShare, Oct.28, 2013, http://www.slideshare.net/InfinitOInc/10-inspiring-zappos-customer-support-stories.
- Peter Moore, “Pret A Manger: Behind the Scenes at the ‘Happy Factory,’” Guardian, April 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2015/apr/14/pret-a-manger-happy-coffee-chain.
- David Aaker, “The Genius Bar–Branding the Innovation,” Harvard Business Review, Jan. 5, 2012, https://hbr.org/2012/01/the-genius-bar-branding-the-in.
This is an edited extract from What to do When Machines do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, BOTs and Big Data, by Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring (Wiley, 2017).
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Malcolm Frank is executive vice president of strategy and marketing at Cognizant, a global technology consultancy of over 250,000 employees, focusing on sharpening the company’s corporate strategy and global brand. With more than two decades of experience driving digital transformation, Malcolm is a frequent speaker and industry thought leader on IT management issues and was named “one of the most influential people in finance” by Risk Management Magazine. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in economics.
Benjamin Pring is global managing director of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, a thought-leadership team that helps clients leverage opportunities being created as new technologies to make computing power more pervasive, more affordable and more important. Ben wrote the industry's first research notes on cloud computing while a research vice president at Gartner. He graduated from Manchester University with a degree in philosophy.
Paul Roehrig leads strategy and marketing for Cognizant Digital Business. He founded the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, and was formerly a principal analyst at Forrester Research. Paul also held key positions in planning and implementing global technology programs in a variety of industries. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and holds graduate degrees from Syracuse University.
Malcolm, Ben and Paul also wrote the award-winning Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business (Wiley, April 2014).