A major study (24,000 consumers over 12 countries) found that two-thirds of customers prefer human interaction during customer service experiences. Yet, we keep making it more and more difficult for them to actually interact with a person. In a world where technology is increasingly replacing human contact when is enough enough?

Add to this concerns that technology is set to replace people in the workplace and we’re living in an era of change and uncertainty.

But, as renowned technologist Tim O’Reilly said; “If we let machines put us out of work, it will be because of a failure of imagination and the will to make a better future.”

Technology can replace the mundane, the repetitive and the formulaic, but it cannot replace values, experience or true judgement. The true power of technology is unleashed in combination with our human intelligence and emotion, to support us in taking decisions and actions.

In business, many companies have opted to embrace technology to better serve their customers. They see it as providing faster, more efficient, more trackable and more cost-effective service. But this has resulted in an unwillingness to connect on the (altogether more expensive) human level.

In fact, IBM recently reported that 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent by the year 2020, the reason why, in their opinion, “AI-powered, automated customer service is the future”.

Yes, contact centres can be costly and people require considerably more investment than machines in the long-term, but the need for a blend of both is clear.

As consumers, we often like to self-serve for example, i.e. accessing accounts and updating details. Simple problem resolution via digital channels is the ideal solution for the vast majority of cases. But more complex service issues require that human touch. They require reassurance, reasoning and experience.

“There continues to be much discussion about the rise of digital and proliferation of mobile. However, as this research shows, human contact is still critical for consumers, increasing the stakes for businesses to strike the right balance in order to effectively service and retain customers, influence sales, and heighten engagement and loyalty.”

- Mary Wardley, vice president, enterprise applications and CRM software, IDC

It’s important that we take a step back and look at what the end user actually wants. In a world where there is increasingly a tendency to revere data (or even worse ‘big data’) - using excessive metrics that fit our needs and/or are easy to measure - companies must evaluate things through the lens of their customers.

Because data is only truly useful when it can be translated into actionable insights. When it allows us to more effectively meet our user's needs and, therefore, tailor our offer accordingly.
As we progress towards the new year, it will be fascinating to see how companies employ both basic technology and better automation alongside more sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine learning to amplify the potential of their people.

If you’re interested in this stuff (automation, digital transformation, etc) then take a look at these great reads: