Up to 85% of customer interactions are predicted to happen without human contact by 2020, according to a study by Gartner. Yet, customer relationships with little to no human contact seem rather far-fetched as conversation and interaction are often the core of any human relationship. However, we have ostensibly been heading in this direction for some time now. The trend towards self-service online customer support, such as FAQ tabs, review systems, and forum discussions has been a boon for business owners and customers alike. Businesses are saving money while customers are able to get answers when they need them.
So, with tech companies racing to develop chatbots for added online self-service support and customers increasingly preferring these self-service transactions, are we really ready to eliminate human interaction in online sales? Not quite.
Here are 3 reasons why:
Complex Issues Require Human Understanding
Self-service options have the potential to give instant, actionable answers to customers’ basic problems without having to wait around for a customer service agent. However, it’s not a catch-all solution to all customer concerns. While it is a good idea to empower customers to research and make purchases on their own, it is still important to include human interaction in their service options. Robert Wollan, senior managing director of Accenture Strategy points out that some companies “have lost sight of the importance of human interaction and often make it too difficult for consumers to get the right level of help and service that they need”.
When customers have exhausted all their self-service options or prefer to take a more relaxed / hands-off approach, they ultimately need the guidance that they can only get from a human being. Self-service options are best used as a tool to free up the time for customer service reps to help customers with more complex issues, such as account closure, advanced technical concerns, or inquiries needing further research. In fact, the Accenture Strategy study notes that 83% of U.S. consumers still prefer talking to a human instead of resolving issues over digital channels.
Preserving human interaction in solving complicated concerns is also an opportunity to build better relationships with customers. Zappos, which offers self-service options on their website, encourages their agents to go above and beyond routine calls, which has created a loyal base of brand evangelists. Customer stories about how Zappos had gone to great lengths to resolve their complex shopping concerns have gone viral several times over, including a instance where a Zappos customer service agent not only sent flowers to a customer’s mother but also upgraded them to VIP memberships after learning about her medical struggles during a call about merchandise returns. Because of these high-touch interactions, Zappos is able to see every touchpoint as a marketing opportunity.
Human Empathy is Irreplaceable
Bad customer service often influences loyal customers to take their money elsewhere or to never return for another purchase. . A particularly terrible online sales experience even has the potential to turn a personal anecdote with your business into a viral story shared with thousands. Comcast received a lot of flak for its poor customer retention practices, which were revealed through acustomer service phone call recorded by an unhappy customer. The story was shared widely and covered by multiple media outlets.
Talking to an irate customer is a delicate balance of looking for possible solutions while simultaneously soothing their anger. An unsatisfied customer needs to feel like their concerns are being addressed and that something is being done to fix their problem.
An FAQ tab without email or phone contact information or an automated phone tree system that circumvents conversations with actual live agents may alienate customers. Chatbots, which are being developed as alternatives to apps, rely on algorithms and pre-set scripts. Sure, you may be able to order items through a chatbot, but they can be inconvenient and they haven’t developed far enough to detect the nuances of human language. You won’t be able to explain your frustrations to a chatbot since it won’t be able to process your angry complaint effectively.
A human agent is capable of empathizing with a customer’s negative sales experience. When handling inquiries or complaints, a customer service agent would be able to pick up on an angry tone of voice while a social media manager or chat agent cannot pick up on sarcasm in writing. Human agents can turn a frustrating shopping concern into a comfortable customer experience.
Take, for example, the viral story about an Amazon customer with a delayed book order and his customer service agent named Thor. The agent was able to bond with the customer over his unusual name and turned what would have been a run-of-the-mill complaint into a memorable customer sales experience.
Customers want a personal sales experience
Excellent customer service triggers the same cerebral reactions in your customers as feeling loved. This makes it even more important to establish a personal connection with them. Customers need to be able to trust the company behind the all these digital channels. While self-service support has helped create self-sufficient customers, it makes the customer-business relationship feel more transactional and less personal. Customers expect an omni-channel experience where they get thesame comprehensive assistance through every single customer service point. A seamless integration of self-service support and human-assisted customer service will be crucial in delivering a tailor-made experience for each customer.
St. George Bank in Australia has undertaken two notable initiatives in providing an integrated banking experience to its clients. In 2014, the bank launched their in-branch iBeacon trials. The iBeacons, small, wireless Bluetooth Low Energy transmitters that interact with devices, senses a customer’s arrival at a bank branch then transmits a welcome message and their personalized information to their smartphones. Customers are then able to select from an array of services or even speak to a bank manager or agent if they choose. Through this, they hope to reduce wait times by allowing customers access to banking agents as soon as they enter the bank. St. George also added a new feature to their mobile banking app, which aims to reduce the wait time for calling customer service support. The new Connect feature uses existing personal security information from their app, such as fingerprint login or passwords, so customers are already securely identified. This means that customers no longer need to re-identify themselves during phone calls, thus lessening the total call time. Connect reduces the average resolution time by 25% and is available 24/7 with overseas support included.
Despite the shift towards automated help, human interaction is still a crucial factor in figuring out the ideal online sales experience. Empowering customers to be more self-sufficient is a step in the right direction that also helps businesses lower overhead costs. The key, however, to creating and sustaining loyal customer relationships is still contingent upon satisfying person-to-person interactions, especially when customers need support the most.