The human difference: why we need to keep people at the heart of experience

Call centre rep
Date Published

06/07/2021

Reading time

4 mins read

Author

Oli Freestone

While technology offers many opportunities to deliver a more proactive and efficient customer experience, it’s the human interactions between brands and their customers that often make the difference.

During the pandemic much of the discussion about customer experience has focused on the benefits of automation, big data and artificial intelligence (AI). However, in our view, greater emphasis is required on the human side of the experience equation. It isn’t a case of technology or humans, but technology for humans. People will remain at the centre of the most important customer conversations. Technology’s job is to take care of the routine and to enable, but not replace, the most critical parts of the experience for both the customer and the agent.

There are many straightforward customer interactions that can and should be automated. For example, paying a regular bill, exploring product options or surfacing information a customer has already provided before to make a query more efficient. These are tasks that the vast majority of customers prefer to be dealt with quickly and effectively by technology.

Automating processes for these types of tasks should still reflect the brand persona (in the tone and language used). And all data must be handled in a transparent, compliant and friction-free manner. Automation frees valuable resources to address the critical interactions; the moments that deliver disproportionately positive or negative experiences.

Creating human moments that matter

In hyper-critical moments context, empathy and human dialogue make the difference. If your car has been stolen, your benefits are delayed or your pension statement is wrong, human-to-human interaction becomes essential to triage the concern, complication or complaint and understand the nuances, potential distresses and urgency often associated with moments that really matter. The role of technology here is to reduce friction, provide the right information and to do so quickly and accurately. It should work in the background to empower colleagues and ensure that they are armed with the intelligence they need to deliver the best interaction possible at that moment.

Do this successfully and there are many potential benefits, such as improvements to customer experience scores, uncovering insights to fuel the development of new products and increased employee engagement and productivity.

So how can companies use technology to enhance human interactions and improve customer and employee experience? Speech analytics and AI can help to determine up-front whether a customer needs special attention, either because they are vulnerable or because their situation is complex or risky. Also, AI assistants can prompt agents with next-best-option suggestions for customers, based on real-time analysis of what the customer is saying, their emotional profile and an understanding of their contact history. In these situations, AI-based technologies can help an agent to spot potentially challenging situations or detect stress in a caller’s voice, and signpost sources of support or alert their supervisor that they may need help.

One side-effect of diverting the more complex and emotionally-charged conversations to humans, is that customer service agents may need more emotional support today than they may have done in the past. For example, it can get very difficult for an agent when a customer who has just lost their job is struggling to pay a bill, or when a bereaved relative is trying to resolve an insurance claim but doesn’t have all the documentation. And, with many people now working from home, it’s harder for supervisors and team members to spot when a colleague may be struggling.

Re-thinking the skills needed for human customer experience

With AI and bots increasingly handling more standardised cases, agents are increasingly required to handle exceptions and take the initiative, rather than stick to a script. This means the skillsets that agents need are changing. They need to be empathetic and able to identify opportunities to delight the customer, build brand loyalty and up-sell when the opportunity arises, but also to know when to pull back and simply listen with empathy and understanding. All of this requires a fresh look at agent roles, in addition to a re-evaluation of the different incentive mechanisms and performance measures that drive behaviour. This means that traditional measures such as average call-handling time may no longer be appropriate — in fact, averages in general are counter-productive if you want to encourage personalised interactions that meet a customer’s specific needs. There is little opportunity to delight based on averages.

Despite the trend towards greater use of technology in customer experience, we can’t lose sight of the need for empathetic human interactions if we want to deliver better outcomes. There are plenty of opportunities for technology to improve customer interactions with brands, but these must be framed as enablers for better human-to-human experiences, as opposed to replacements.

Technology for humans, not technology or humans.

Find out how we’re transforming customer experience

Written by

Oli Freestone

Oli Freestone

Head of capita Institute

Oli Freestone is responsible for digital thought leadership, research and insights as Head of Capita’s Institute. He has worked across multiple industries as a management consultant, has expertise in strategy, technology and innovation, and is a regular contributor to leading publications on these topics.

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