This cartoon is dedicated to Comcast, the most recent company to show me how far we have to go before we reach conversational AI that can come close to a human voice.
The only thing worse than the Comcast customer service bot that greeted me when trying to resolve a technical issue was having to have identical conversations with the same bot each additional time I had to call back. The human operators I finally reached (who were all incredibly helpful) eventually coached me on the quickest way to get past the bot the next time.
It struck me that all the lip service around Customer Experience often overlooks the human factor. Customer service is every bit a part of marketing as any other tactic. And yet it’s often measured more by operational efficiency than by creating customer value.
“By 2025, AI will power 95% of all customer interaction, including live telephone and online conversations that will leave customers unable to ‘spot the bot,’” a CX technology company named Servion said in a typical industry prediction recently.
McKinsey found that 57% of customer-care execs consider call reduction their “number-one priority” for the next five years, investing in technology to prevent the need to talk to a human through websites, chat bots, apps, and AI robots that can simulate human conversations.
And yet McKinsey cautioned businesses not to let customer service take a back seat to technology. They wrote that “the human factor in the call center remained vital … underscoring the importance of choosing the right balance of human interaction and automation and the need for continued focus on core call-center operations.”
A couple years ago, I took a tour of the Zappos HQ in Las Vegas. Zappos takes a contrarian approach to customer service, valuing human conversation as the most valuable marketing tactic at their disposal. They also see their call center as a major point of difference from Amazon, which owns Zappos, and often sells the same products.
In an environment where call centers are typically valued for reducing call handle times, Zappos famously has an award for who can stay on the phone the longest with customers. The long-standing winner was 10 hours, 43 minutes, eventually bested in 2017 by a call lasting 10 hours, 51 minutes. These awards symbolically show the rest of the organization just how much Zappos values the human conversation.
Zappos founder Tony Hsieh once said, “the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there, IF you get the interaction right.” He later said, “we’re actively experimenting with ways to get MORE people to call because it’s such a valuable marketing brand builder for us.”
In the stampede toward digital transformation, don’t forget the power of human interaction.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: