With the hit series Humans returning to Channel 4, we are once again pondering what makes us human and marvelling at the ever-decreasing gap between humanity and artificial intelligence. But can robots ever really replace human beings?
The rise of the machines
Robots are rapidly becoming part of our everyday lives. Those of us who spend time in London are by now used to the driverless DLR trains, and the world’s first driverless bus recently took to the streets of Lyon. Virtual robots are being adopted in the banking industry to handle various tasks, often high volume and repetitive, from payment of bills and money transfers through to IT support. Robots are collecting and emptying refuse bins, and you can have artificial intelligence control myriad aspects of your home from the temperature to what food you need to stock the fridge with!
It’s not all been plain sailing, though. Microsoft was forced to delete its AI chatbot just 24 hours after its launch on Twitter, as the software that allowed the bot to “learn” from interactions with other Twitter users led to it adopting, well… distinctly inappropriate language! Concerns around privacy and transparency have been raised in regard to whether human-seeming chatbots could lead users to supply data they don’t realise is being recorded by a computer. Then there are the bots that seem almost, but not quite, human – falling into what is known as the “uncanny valley”, where, far from establishing a connection, they become alienating and downright creepy!
Whilst chat bots are clearly not yet able to replicate completely natural human interaction, the gap is closing, and the work continues.
So where is all this taking us?
Should we do away with humans altogether and have all customer interactions handled by artificial intelligence? The short answer is, no. Whilst it’s clear that customers want the option to interact digitally with your business, they also want the opportunity to speak to a real person. In fact, 76% of UK consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues. 65% have called a business in the last month, whereas only 24% have contacted a business using a web form. Robots cannot empathise or innovate, and so lack either the warm personal touch or the outside-the-box thinking that customers require in the event of a problem. When it comes to having a business reach out to you, an email is impersonal and disposable, whereas a human voice in your ear builds a connection on a deeper level. As we’ve noted previously, human interaction has the ability to influence, persuade, gain trust and build loyalty.
What can your business do?
It is important to ensure that your customers can contact you on whatever channel suits them, and to make sure that all communication channels are clearly displayed and signposted – 68% of customers will look for your phone number for two minutes or less before giving up. When planning your marketing programmes, ensure that you take advantage of the value that the human touch brings to an often impersonal digital experience. If your automated programmes aren’t reaching the right people, a phone call can cut through the digital noise, and help you build rapport and a true understanding of your customer’s interests. With a deeper level of insight you can provide a truly personal and relevant customer experience across all channels.
If a customer does come to you via digital channels, make sure you can recognise when the human touch is required. 92% of customers want your business’ representatives to show understanding – tone of voice, turns of phrase and sharing personal touches are what convey that sense of understanding.
You really can hear a smile over the phone, and robots can’t smile. Not yet, anyway.
Adopting automation to improve your sales, marketing and service efficiency makes sense, but not at the expense of an empathetic, human connection with your customers. Personal interaction ultimately has a positive impact on your bottom line. After a positive phone experience, 80% of consumers are likely to become repeat customers and 60% are likely to spend more money with that company in future.
At a time when trust in corporations is at an all-time low, and consumers are eager for authentic, trustworthy brands, the human face of your organisation is vitally important, and a key differentiator.
So, if you are a fan of the new series, you may be inclined to believe that robots can replace human beings, but remember….
Customers are crying out for a human connection – and that requires a human.