Will technology overtake human sense of service?

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Will technology overtake human sense of service?

PwC’s survey found that 56 percent of shoppers will turn away from their favourite products or brands after several bad experiences. PHOTO | COURTESY 

The customer service week, marked earlier this month, was characterised by a number of firms sending text messages and putting up social media posts on how they value their clients. It got me thinking about the early days when we were growing up in the village.

Whenever we had guests coming over, the house and compound were cleaned, proper directions issued, children well dressed and the house decorated in the best crotchet. When they arrived, the guests were treated to the best meal and served using specially reserved crockery and plates. I suspect that in many homes this practice remains.

With such special treatment reserved to our guests at home, one would imagine that a business will treat its customers, who are essentially guests, in a similar way.

When you run business, it means that you will have clients coming to your premises every single day. You therefore must look your best, ensure that the premises are sparkling clean, provide sufficient clear directions and speak courteously and warmly throughout and most importantly, give them the best of your product or service.

It seems that this is just common sense, and that it would be easy to replicate how we treat our guests at home, at our respective businesses. Yet it is not that simple. Tales abound of how people are mistreated by companies and public offices and given terrible service.

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Common sense can be described simply the total of our knowledge and experiences applied in practical ways. And in my view, this would apply to the work place as well such that our high standards at home, are reflected in the way we serve our customers.

But common sense may not be as common as we think. It varies from person to person, because none of us has identical knowledge and experiences. It is even more prevalent in situations where the decisions are made in groups.

A group must apply a lot of concerted, intentional, and integrated effort to develop a shared pool of judgment.

But even as many people struggle to apply common sense to serving clients in private business and public institutions, technological advancements are becoming a force to reckon with. In several sectors, the use of technology for customer interfaces is gaining prominence.

Banks, airlines and even retailers and government services such as driving licence renewal for instance, are increasingly using self- service portals that are either online or on a stand-alone machine, where one can carry out a number of seemingly mundane tasks. The march towards use of such technological interventions is unstoppable.

The question then is, with the rising use of these interfaces, are human beings trying to replace human touch and the application of courtesy in serving fellow humans with technology? Of course, it is not an easy question to answer, as the decision to use technology is determined by various factors.

Currently, there a number of technology companies trying to infuse common sense into machines as the drive to use robots and machines increases across multiple sectors. In countries such as China, there are already restaurants that have robots serving customers.

For retailers, the advent of electronic commerce has completely changed the game as people resort to online shopping.

It is generally accepted that it will take some time for machines to reach the same level of human courtesy and empathy required for a satisfying client experience. Just like entertainment hotspots, retail stores for instance are becoming venues that serve as gathering locations for customers to experience their favorite brands together.

But even as technology has enhanced the shopping experience, research has shown that consumers are often coming away unsatisfied. Some industry pundits call it an experience disconnect. Findings from a recent PwC Consumer Intelligence Series (CIS) survey of 15,000 global consumers confirm human touch still matters. Seventy-five percent of survey respondents report that they want more human interaction in the future, not less. Further, nearly three-quarters of shoppers say customer experience is more important than price and product quality when it comes to purchasing decisions.

Even as technology plays a larger role, employees remain the connective tissue and the risk of not getting the human element right is significant. Thus, the need to instil and maintain a common sense approach to conducting business is expected to remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

PwC’s survey found that 56 percent of shoppers will turn away from their favourite products or brands after several bad experiences, and 32 percent will walk after just one bad experience. Meanwhile, 53 percent of respondents reported that interaction with knowledgeable, helpful people gave them the most satisfaction as shoppers — a higher percentage than those who named technology-enabled experiences such as personalized offers or in-store screens that display an extended range of products.

Ultimately, the human element remains central to customer interactions, even if it’s embedded within automation, artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, or other technologies.

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