‘Digital business’ shouldn’t mean ‘human-less’ service

Automation, artificial intelligence and digital business get a lot of attention today as cutting-edge ways to improve customer service. But are they really as promising as they’re made out to be?

Not according to the 11th annual Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey, released earlier this year after polling of nearly 25,000 customers across 33 countries and 11 industries. The survey’s key finding: even in the era of digital transformation, person-to-person interactions are critically important for keeping customers happy.

“Companies have invested significantly in digital technologies to create more personalized connections and, by extension, drive profitable growth,” Accenture noted in a report based on the survey’s findings. “Ironically, a number of these investments are producing the opposite results. Companies are beginning to recognize their over-reliance on digital has come at a high price. To optimize their growth potential and deliver the experiences customers demand, they need to balance their digital exuberance with a human touch.”

Evidence of this is easy to find. Witness the recent headlines about Facebook and its treatment of its Trending feature for news stories. Stung earlier this year by a Gizmodo report that some of its human “news curators” avoided conservative news sources, Facebook hit upon a solution in late August: fire the entire human editorial team and put the algorithm in charge. Days later, that algorithm posted a fake news story in its “Trending” list.

So the algorithms aren’t always as smart as advertised.

As Accenture observed in its summary of this year’s Pulse Survey, “[r]eliance on digital technologies has resulted in ‘human-less’ customer services.” And many consumers don’t like it.

Out of those surveyed by Accenture, 62 percent of respondents in China and 76 percent of respondents in the U.K. reported they preferred to deal with humans rather than digital channels to solve their service issues. In the U.S., that figure was even higher: 83 percent.

“Companies that rely too heavily on digital interactions might be extending their reach, but they’re alienating valuable customers and losing out on upsell and cross-sell opportunities due to the lack of personalization customers want,” Accenture reported. “Ironically, the savings brought about by digital efficiencies are increasingly offset by the promotions and discounts companies must now offer to win customers back.”

So what’s the right approach to digitally enabled but human-friendly business? Accenture made this recommendation:

“To optimize their growth potential and deliver the experiences customers demand, companies need to balance their digital exuberance with a human touch. What’s needed is a strategic mix of digital and non-digital options that allows customers to engage with providers in multiple, highly satisfying ways.”

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