More and more we read about companies replacing human workers with machines, robots or computers. While this is troubling, it is, alas, part of our evolution it would seem. However, there is one area where it seems humans are needed and cannot be readily replaced and that area is service.
Now I know there are those who can give some examples of good automated service but I would submit that automated service is rarely service at all. Think about it, how many times have you been stuck in that horrible loop on the phone where you just want a real person to speak with only to be confronted with “press 1, 2, 3, ad infinitum”. Is this really service or is it a subtle message that the company you are trying to reach is more interested in saving a few pennies than they are in really helping you…the customer?
Frankly, the technology known as IVR, Interactive Voice Response, where you access a company by voice recognition or pressing numbers on your phone keypad might be great for paying a bill or getting some basic information but when you need help, I have found it more frustrating than helpful. And isn’t being helpful what service is all about?
Recently, I lost my internet/phone/TV service due to some work on my house. I had to get some help troubleshooting to find out what exactly went wrong. I dialed the provider and got the dreaded IVR system. After pushing button after button and answering question after question, I was left in a position where no option fit the bill for me. What now? After a few choice words and a moment to think, I took a chance and dialed zero. Amazingly, it began to ring and I got a human…yea! The interaction with a person took less time for me to explain my problem than did all of the buttons and voice commanding and proved infinitely less frustrating.
This entire experience taught me a few things. First, IVR systems are a very poor substitute for real human connection. Second, when a customer has a problem, IVR is simply terrible because it cannot answer quickly and cannot capture the myriad nuances of product issues. Finally, it sends a bad message about how much your company really cares about customers. If I spend my hard-earned money with you and you make me endure an arduous struggle to get the easiest of answers to a problem, how much do I think I matter to you?
As our world slowly moves to mechanized everything, it is my fervent hope that we never lose the need for humans to help humans. As I have illustrated, while there are many things humans do poorly and machines do better, empathy and understanding are things no push-button voice recognition system can do at all. If you are a business person, listen up, service is and will always need to be human to human and no amount of automation can adequately replace it. So stop pinching pennies and start providing what your customers deserve, human help.