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Dehumanised service: The argument against AI

23rd Dec 2015
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First we had ‘Siri’, Apple’s answer to a personal assistant on your mobile phone. Now there is ‘M’, a new experiment and service from Facebook that can buy a gift for a friend or book you in for that hair appointment that has fallen to the bottom of the to do list.

At first glance, this type of technology seems to be a godsend for the time-poor modern individual. Although the benefits to the end consumer seem obvious, this kind of technology would not be as useful if real humans didn’t power it. Indeed, Facebook believes so heavily in this approach that they are investing large sums of money in “AI trainers” to ensure that the human element of the technology remains as skilled as possible.

Dehumanised service

As the world becomes ever more digitised and technology pushes new boundaries, we will likely see a change in customer service for the better. “M” is an example of the potential of such technology providing a more simple way to get things done through automation. Despite the importance of the human element, there is still the possibility that this type of technology could dehumanise customer service. Will we see a gradual but determined dehumanisation of the customer service process as it becomes dominated by artificial intelligence? Is it inevitable that human interaction will become obsolete? And this begs the question – does loss of human interaction pose a major threat to customer service in the longer term?

Customer service today now stretches across multiple platforms, encompassing a range of channels from the more traditional telephone and email, through to web chat and social media.  The contact industry is highly developed and already familiar with new channels of communication enabled by technology. The industry knows how these technologies can be used to improve the customer’s brand experience, and these improvements are vital to stay ahead of the game in a landscape that is more competitive and demands to be more joined up than ever. Brands that are surging ahead are the ones that prioritise the customer experience over all else.


In a recent survey by Jaywing, when asked which factors were most influential in their decision not to purchase, 83% of consumers regarded poor customer service as the number one barrier. These findings clearly demonstrate that traditional expectations of customer service have not gone away. They do, however, demand a different way of being addressed by increasingly discerning customers who expect brands to know who they are, understand their concerns and respond quickly. Often, these are expectations that can’t be met by technology alone.

The most valuable customer experiences are achieved through a relatable and, most importantly, human experience. Despite the industry’s adoption of technology, there needs to be awareness around the pitfalls of relying overly on technology. Leaning too heavily on automation risks alienating customers who simply want a real person to answer their enquiry. Putting efficiencies before consumer’s actual needs to drive the bottom line could encourage customers to go elsewhere in search of empathy, understanding and an appreciation of their needs.

What is needed in our digitally-driven world is a customer experience that is led by real human beings, but enabled by technology. This kind of experience allows for a combination of the human emotion that engages consumers, coupled with the efficiency, speed and convenience that technology can provide. In essence, this blend permits greater efficiency without the loss of humanity that may turn-off consumers.

Argos Helpers

The most successful brands are the ones that find something relatable to the everyday experience of their consumers. Take Argos for example. The retailer’s “Helpers” Twitter account responded to a complaint using the irate customer’s distinctive language. This didn’t feel patronising in any way, but rather felt refreshing and authentic. It even got a positive response from the customer. This demonstrates how Twitter can be a great tool for delivering customer service as it gives a direct line of contact to consumers in real-time but it requires human input to make it work.

Where brands will find the most success is in the balance of technology and the human. Neither one nor the other holds the entire answer but together they are most effective. Even though human emotion is a prized commodity, there are times where consumers will want to be served by an efficient robot. However, consumers want to know that behind this robot there is a person ready and waiting to step in when needed.

Chris Hancock is contact managing director at Jaywing

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