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written by
Christian Nellemann

Are robots the future of customer service? Not in my business

Robot servant

Gartner recently predicted that 85% of customer interactions will be managed by artificial intelligence by 2020.

We also know that businesses of all shapes and sizes – including mine – are increasingly willing to allow technology to become part of the customer service mix. Even social media is playing its part, allowing many companies to not only respond to problems rapidly but to create great customer experiences.

As a result, a great deal of conclusion-jumping is going on, and many so-called experts are dismissing the value of human customer service, suggesting that it’s only a matter of time before the bots take over. Automation will be king, and the humans will just hover around ensuring the technology is working.

But I disagree with that theory. The future of good customer service is a combination of great tech and great people.

Technology should enhance human experience, not replace it

Technology can play a part in providing great customer service.

Our customer service systems automate any processes that really should be automated. Our CRM system is constantly adapted and updated to add new functionality for our advisors to make our service smoother, faster and simpler. It removes some of the mundanity, cuts mistakes and saves time. And above all, it allows the agents to focus on solving the trickiest problems and wowing our customers. That’s just good business.

"However nice it is to be reminded of your mother’s maiden name and your first car, it is for the most part bloody annoying."

We are even considering using AI to improve the customer experience. For example, we are looking at voice recognition in order to avoid dreary security questions. However nice it is to be reminded of your mother’s maiden name and your first car, it is for the most part bloody annoying. 

But what we never do is automate anything that could slow down or complicate our customer’s journey. It comes down to the simple fact that we respect the intelligence of our customer. The vast majority of the time, they’re calling us because they want to speak to a human being. So we let our technology sit in the background – finding ways to get the customer talking to the right person, and quickly.

Speed, of course, matters. Salesforce has found that while 73% of customers were influenced by personalised customer care, 81% were even more influenced by receiving an immediate response. Customers have high expectations. They want speed. They want simplicity. They want a positive experience. When tech and humans work together, all of this is possible.

Tech isn’t the answer to unmotivated customer service teams

Technology really will do incredible things for customer service. But for corporate businesses with enormous customer bases, it can only do so much.

Most CEOs understand the fragile relationship between growth and customer service. And even with the best intentions, they simply can’t get the culture right because their teams become too big or are outsourced. Building a brilliant customer service team is hard – I can vouch for that. But building one that can serve millions of customers at the level we do, from premises all over the world, is all-but impossible.

Technology can’t fix that. It may limit the damage; it may make poor service slightly better. But it cannot and will not solve the underlying problems.

Another consequence of all this is how customers are reacting. Increasingly, they are so used to poor service that they are happy to resort to self-service – which is where we are now headed. If you’ve got a problem, your best option may be to fix it yourself. 

And that, surely, isn’t where we want customer service to go. Whether it’s automation of the boring parts, or those viral stories of customer service interaction on social media, tech can make a big difference. But when it works, there’s always a human involved – and that’s what makes it special.

Technology must enhance human experience, not replace it. 

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Christian Nellemann is the Founder and CEO of XLN, a provider of low-cost phone, broadband, energy and card processing services exclusively to small businesses. A serial entrepreneur, he’s a two-time winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and one of only 17 inductees into their Global Hall of Fame. He is passionate about small businesses, and is a featured columnist for realbusiness.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter @christianxln

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