5 Reasons Why the Human Touch Should Not Be Forgotten in the Age of AI

Hands reaching out - human touch in customer service concept

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Is it just me, or does it feel like AI dominates every conversation these days?

Businesses want more automation, ‘Zero Touch’ processes, efficiency, error reduction, service enhancements, innovation, cost savings, more with less… the list could go on. Of course, AI seems to be the answer.

And it’s no surprise really. AI’s continuing, fast-paced advances unequivocally offer multiple business benefits. (Two days before I wrote this article in fact, the Forbes Technology Council published a list of 20 ways AI can boost your bottom line.)

Yet despite the advantageous prospect of AI, this article acts as a reminder that there’s still one crucial element of customer service which (as of yet), AI can’t readily offer, and that’s the ability to make a human connection with your customers.

Here, Katie Stabler – a passionate CX Thought Leader and Experience advocate – shares 5 reasons why the human touch shouldn’t be forgotten about in customer service.

1. Challenging Times Mean Customers Need You More Than Ever Before

In 2021, Gartner predicted that by 2026, 75% of customers accessing customer support will be due to loneliness.

When I read that, I found it to be an astonishingly high percentage and although I’m not entirely convinced of that statistic, I do believe the sentiment behind it needs to be on customer experience leaders’ minds.

Two years on from Gartner’s publication, the world is an increasingly turbulent place. The legacy impact of the pandemic, war and economic instability have impacted us all in some way and have bred a whole new demographic of vulnerable customers who may have never previously considered themselves vulnerable.

Customers facing challenges may not have the capacity or capability considered ‘reasonable’ and may well have numerous reasons for wanting to speak with a human over a machine.

2. Complex, High-Impact Queries Still Need Empathy

Undoubtedly, when it comes to simple tasks, the majority of customers want a quick, seamless experience and a self-service option here can provide an optimal experience.

But most customer service leaders appreciate that when a task becomes complex or negatively impacts a customer in some way, a human customer service representative can offer much that AI cannot.

When a task becomes complex or negatively impacts a customer in some way, a human customer service representative can offer much that AI cannot.

Most commonly in this situation, customers want to feel the sense of confidence that comes from speaking to an agent.

Building on that, customers want to feel understood, that the business recognizes the problem they face, acknowledges the impact it’s having and cares. Sometimes the old sayings ring true… ”A problem shared is a problem halved”.

3. AI Is Not a Differentiator When Your Competitors Have It Too

AI technology can improve your operations.

But AI isn’t unique to you, and whatever benefits it can provide to your business, it can provide to your competitors too, and you must not lose sight that your service delivery and customer support can be a deciding factor in respect of your customer choosing you over the competition. (51% of customers said that an absence of human support as an option in customer service is a relationship breaker – Forbes.)

You must not lose sight that your service delivery and customer support can be a deciding factor in respect of your customer choosing you

Where you can use AI as a differentiator is when you successfully invest in human strengths and embrace a human–AI collaboration, although this is no easy task, and according to Gartner (January 2023), nearly half of customer service representatives avoid using new technology.

This avoidance of new technology is most commonly down to legacy tools still being available and so their recommendation is to remove access.

I would also recommend a strong change-management approach whereby your customer service teams are brought along on an adoption journey, seeing and feeling the positive impact of how these new tools can support their daily role.

If you are looking to put together a business case for new technology, read our article: What to Include in a Business Case for New Technology

4. People Make the Experience

Providing exceptional human customer service can lead to increased brand loyalty. We are more likely to connect and recall a positive experience that came from human interaction as we are more likely to associate stronger (emotional) feelings with an interaction with a person over a bot.

In addition, human representation can use empathy, judgement, creativity, and flexibility in their problem solving.

Consider this, the brand-new ear buds you purchased (from a reputable, yet expensive brand) 2 months ago have stopped working and all troubleshooting fails (true story).

Scenario 1 sees you follow the self-service pathway to access your warranty, which enables you to return your product to be either fixed and returned or replaced.

Scenario 2 sees you contact a live agent and express the impact of the faulty ear buds (you use them daily for work and the gym so it’s highly frustrating for them not to be in working order, and you are due to travel and travel will be less enjoyable for you without them).

This results in the agent bypassing a potential ‘fix’ but instead offers an instant replacement with an upgraded product as a goodwill gesture.

Now, both scenarios will result in a positive outcome, but the creativity and flexibility from the agent, which comes from both understanding the situation and acting with empathy, ultimately results in a better outcome and a much happier customer.

A customer who feels cared for and will be more likely to view a problematic experience as a positive one (The ‘Customer Service Recovery Paradox’).

5. A Brand Without ’People-Presence’ Is Just Off-Putting

I’ll keep this last point simple.

If a company’s customer service were to be 100% automated, what opinion of the company would you form?

Perhaps initially you might consider them to be ground-breaking.

But would you trust that they could help you if needed their support?

Do you think you would feel valued? (If they aren’t willing to invest in people, do they care about you?)

Katie Stabler, Founder and Director of Customer Experience at CULTIVATE Customer Experience by Design
Katie Stabler

Finally, the most telling question, referring back to my point in differentiation, if the only difference between this company and another was that one offered a human customer service option and the other did not, which company would you choose to give your custom to?

AI has a strong presence and for good reason, but let us not forget the significant value of the human touch.

Happy CX-ing!

Written by: Katie Stabler, Founder and Director of Customer Experience at CULTIVATE Customer Experience by Design

If you want more great insights by Katie, you should read these articles next:

Author: Katie Stabler
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 2nd Jan 2024 - Last modified: 3rd Jan 2024
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