Does talking to a human still matter?
Presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Given the march of technology, it may be naïve to believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will never be able to do everything humans do to support customer service — including exercising emotional intelligence, judgment and wisdom, creativity, humor and warmth.
But no matter how sophisticated social media, chatbots and AI become, people will likely always know when they are being handled by a computer. Will they learn to value the efficient over the human — transactional over experiential? Will the very knowledge that they are being handled by a machine be a hurdle?
“I think that if the experience is good, people would prefer to have the automated systems,” said Donal Daly, CEO of Altify and author of “Tomorrow | Today: How AI Impacts How We Work, Live and Think (and It’s Not What You Expect).”
“There are many of us saying, ‘Let me talk to a machine.’ I can do it at a time that is convenient to me, when I want to deal with this, and I don’t have to talk to a person. And if that works well, I think that’s a better experience,” said Mr. Daly. “There are those who have a Millennial mindset, and not just of that age group, but tech-savvy and tech-dependent, who are quite happy to do that. I don’t think there is any concern about being handled by a machine.”
For others, however, this may not do. Says Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed: “Think of the development of e-readers, and then people say, ‘I like the tactile feel of the book.’ There is always going to be a culture there that is responsive to the human side of things. And customer service will be a lost art, quite honestly, the ability to delight a customer with human interaction. If chatbots take over, that will be something that will be lost.”
There are all kinds of societal questions at play. He adds, “We have a human side, and there is going to be a counter-punch by companies who choose to focus on connecting with customers in a more human way.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see AI interactions inevitably taking over most human interactions in supporting customer service? Can you name customer service functions that would be best saved for humans versus machine?