By Hannah Price
Fifty years ago, the average price for a loaf of bread was 9p, fast forward to today, and the average price has skyrocketed to 108p. Back then, the chart-toppers were the likes of The Rolling Stones, Cher, and Tom Jones. And the iPhone was still 36 years from being invented!
It’s fair to say that the world we live in has changed since 1971. Perhaps no single year has seen such dramatic change as 2020 – we’ve been becoming steadily more digitalized, but a pandemic-forced remote world meant we took our reliance on technology to the next level.
Blurring the lines
With social distancing the norm, the lines between our physical and remote lives became somewhat blurred. Instead of shutting down our laptops to mark the end of the working day and heading to a bar with colleagues, we just opened a new Zoom or Microsoft Teams tab for an online office social. And perhaps after that, a family quiz on the very same remote platform.
Then, when it came to accessing the services we utilize in daily life (like banking, personal health, and fitness) we found ourselves even more limited by digital access. As in-person capacity became restricted, telephone lines jammed, and online contact generally encouraged, our remote lives took over.
And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, organisations were able to offer more to their customers digitally. The consumer saved costs and time accessing services (instead of a monthly gym membership, free online workouts). But with this digital access, we found ourselves interacting with technology rather than another human more and more.
The birth of a dehumanized experience
To cope with the stretched workload, telephone lines were manned with automated messages asking that only those most vulnerable or with critical needs reached out via this method. Others were asked to head to an online portal where, typically, they’d be met with artificial intelligence (AI) or automation of some kind.
So, customers hoping to reach out to another human were given technology instead. And this was experienced in industries from retail to healthcare – the sector most affected by the events of last year.
A doctor’s appointment is something you’d ideally like to do in person, but with restrictions in place and higher demand than ever before, healthcare providers were forced to conduct appointments through a telephone or screen. And discussing a personal problem or ailment through technology just doesn’t provide the same level of comfort or care. This dehumanized experience of accessing services has been felt far and wide – and has it been a success or failure?
We’re missing personalized services…
Although modern technology has enhanced the service offering of organizations and helped us to cope effectively with unprecedented demand, statistics paint a picture of a society that still needs and demands human connection.
When business leaders were asked how their users choose to interact with their services in our ever-digital world, the results were surprising:
- 54% said email is their most important customer engagement channel,
- 53% said telephone,
- 40% said in-person.
In comparison, a smaller proportion of leaders cited service delivery methods led by tech, with 45% saying they relied upon chat capabilities and 29% saying a self-service portal is vital. Perhaps there’s a lot to learn from these results? Faced with change and advancements, we still want to access services where we know there’s another person on the other end of our request.
Clearly, we want the empathy of another human being, and we don’t get this same level of understanding from an AI algorithm. And why do we crave this empathy? Possibly because when we reach out to organizations for help, we feel vulnerable and want reassurance. So, maybe it’s time to pause on our path to dehumanizing service delivery and re-evaluate.
Finding a balance in service delivery
Our increased reliance on technology makes sense, for many, it was the only way to cope in a demanding year. And for some, the only way to make contact with loved ones. But going forward, we must find a way to bring the face back to service delivery.
Yes, AI, automation, and robotics can make us more efficient and provide a higher ceiling of opportunity, but our user base is clear: they want and need a human aspect to our services. So, it’s time to find a balance, to be selective as to when we let tech take a lead and when we’re there to provide that human support when our customers need it.
For example, the more mundane tasks like a simple password reset or pointing users towards FAQs are effective jobs for technology. An automated workflow can immediately help a user get access to their account when a password has been lost, whereas emailing or calling the service desk is a long and unnecessary solution to this problem. Similarly, an algorithm that can help a customer to navigate their way to the knowledge behind an FAQ is far more valuable than a human doing the same job.
Whereas, a user experiencing a long-term technological issue or one who has received an incorrect or defective product is likely to need the reassurance and comfort of a service operator – we must recognize this and deliver the experience that will best suit our user’s need.
Dehumanized versus personalized: It doesn’t have to be one or the other
The reality is that we can still benefit from the positives of advanced technology (efficiency and cost-saving) and take the lessons from our remote-forced lives to enhance how we work and live in the future.
But, the digital age doesn’t have to overtake a human service experience. After all, The Rolling Stones are still adored even with ample new music on the scene, both modern and classic music are able to exist seamlessly alongside each other. The same is true for a digital and physical service experience. So, instead of plowing on with our journey to dehumanized service delivery, let’s take a step back and find the perfect balance.