We live at the dawn of some very technologically compelling times. Businesses around the globe have supplanted humans with artificial equivalents, in a bid to meet customer demand for greater efficiencies. Indeed, some of this Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been integrated into business processes so smoothly, that we barely notice anymore.
As an example, someone was recently texting me, and in their query asked me where I was. My iPhone picked up on the context queues in the message and prompted me with my current location – I just tapped and sent.
In fact, AI, and automated machines in general, are very, very good at particular types of work. Monitoring, for example. People are horrible at monitoring – it’s boring and repetitive, and by our nature, we can easily become distracted. In some cases, in fact, extended monitoring is essential to life itself – in places like the intensive care unit at your hospital, or aloft at 41,000 feet, keeping an airplane with 300 passengers stable and safe. By 2022, one survey says that companies will dump a whopping $79 billion into such cognitive and AI systems designed to save money, build efficiency, and foster profitability.
So what ever happened to that old storyline fed to us by Hollywood and the media for generations – that machines will do everything, and disaster will loom for anything not data based or software based? The vision was that we’d all sit around with AR helmets on all day – and if we wanted to order something, we would just think about it, and it would arrive.
The reality is that, for all of its great benefits, AI isn’t quite complete without humans sharing some of the workload. Take self-driving cars, for example. We have been hearing for the last five years that “next year” is the year for a fully automated car, yet every “next year” arrives and that vision isn’t here yet. Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, says the future will be mixed – software to do the routine, humans to do the non-routine, intuitive, or unexpected; and the combination of the two will be far safer than today.
So, if you are a CEO trying to predict the future, what does this all mean for your business? For starters, you would be best advised to envision a hybrid environment, in which your team and technology partner to enhance the customer experience. For example, grocers certainly benefit from software to replenish and keep items in stock; but also still require trained, motivated, friendly, helpful employees to help someone find that unique spice item, take them to it, and make sure it’s what they want. They won’t remember the fact that the item is in stock – but they will remember the personal attention, and this will help build loyalty to your brand.
Here are some of the “high tech” tools that matter and will help improve service and satisfaction and lower costs, but still require a live person to deliver a superb customer journey:
We all of course do a lot of personal texting, but commercial texting, through the deployment of chatbots, is accelerating rapidly. Such systems are a seamless and easy way to interact with your consumers. Say I want to get my car serviced. I make my reservation online; when my car is ready, I get a text with a bill attached; I approve it and my Visa card is automatically charged. But equal in importance are factors like how was I greeted when I arrived at the dealership; whether I felt special there; and certainly, whether the work was performed, with excellence, by a human mechanic. In this example, the hybrid works – easy, seamless AND personal, caring, and focused on an awesome customer journey.
The same is true for traveling. I get to the airport, and I get a text that my gate has changed. When I arrive at my destination, I get a text that my bag is on Carousel B and my Lyft is at Door 2. But how was my experience on the plane? Was the flight attendant friendly and helpful? Did the pilot let me know what was going on when we were delayed a bit? Will I fly with this airline on my next trip? Did my Lyft driver offer up a few great restaurant ideas?
You love those comfy shoes you recently bought so much, that you’re ready to add a second pair. One click -- and the second pair is on the way to you, no searching, no worry. Yet, even in today’s tech-fueled world, there are some things you’d prefer to shop for personally. How about, for example, fresh fruit and produce? You need to see and touch it. Amazon is rumored to be building a new store concept where all of the non-fresh goods could be chosen either at home or by screen when you arrive at the store, except for fresh food. You would shop for the perishables personally, seeing what you are buying, and when you bring your fresh food to the cashier, all of the shelf-stable food will already be there, boxed up and ready to go, or perhaps delivered separately. This is a perfect example of the promise of a hybrid approach – give the customer what they want, with fast, easy choices for stuff that doesn’t require the senses; but with the option to use their intuition and their noses to pick out the best fresh strawberries they can find.
Many merchants have perfected the tech-supported return: You identify you have an unneeded item, and are prompted to print the return QR label, slap it on the box, and drop it off at Fedex. Awesome! But what about the exceptions? The eyeglasses you ordered from Warby Parker are great, and the shopping and delivery process was seamless, fed by great software and super logistics. But—uh oh—the screw holding the left earpiece came out when you were biking, and you don’t live near one of their stores. What to do? Most consumers would want to feel assured that a personal approach was backing up the technology in this case. Warby’s process? After a quick email explaining the problem, they send a PERSONAL response, and dispatch a new screw to your address within 24 hours. Then after you received the screw, the SAME person actually followed up with an email to make sure you got the part, and all is now well with your Warby glasses.
You get my point: You need both. If you are behind the curve on a software-enabled customer journey, you better get moving because most of your competition is already on that journey. But don’t forsake the personal touch—the human experience that, even in a software-driven world, still has a huge impact on the customer journey. If you leverage BOTH, and create a HYBRID enabled customer journey, you will win big, because people will remember your brand emotionally, and have a special connection that goes beyond pure left brain satisfaction.