Humans are Making Robots Obsolete, at Least in this Industry


Walmart announced a couple of weeks ago the arrival of their Intelligent Retail Lab which includes the use of AI-powered shelf-scanning cameras that will detect when a shelf needs to be re-stocked with certain products. This development is yet another step forward in the automation shift that is happening across many industries. With notable brands and Fortune 500 companies turning over human jobs to AI, it's easy to see why people are rallying for policy to protect laborers and have even gone as far as to request social welfare for displaced workers. While it’s true that a high number of jobs can and likely will be automated, certain occupations remain free from the worry of AI displacement, and according to one survey, it’s your customers and their experience with your brand that will keep it that way.

According to a survey by PwC, 82% of American customers will want to interact with a real person more as technology improves. That number notches a bit higher in Germany at 84% with Japan being the outlier at only 53%. When something goes wrong people want to talk to a real person, not a chatbot. This would lead many to think that Americans are satisfied with the human experience they receive from companies they do business with and that perhaps AI hasn’t developed enough to compete with the human touch. However, the survey also states that 64% of US customers feel that companies have “lost touch” with the role of humans in their customer experience. Americans are desiring a human touch in the customer experience even as technology improves yet their outlook on the ability of companies to provide that to a satisfactory level is disappointing, to say the least.

What then, should your company do to set yourself apart from the competition and how can AI help or hurt?

Automate to enhance workflow not replace

Automation can be an effective tool for simple questions that require a quick response which hopefully has already been saved in your CRM (customer relationship management software). One beverage company startup, Iris Nova, developed a chatbot that responds to most of their customers’ chat inquiries; however, once the customers’ questions move beyond the comfort level of the chatbot the customer is automatically directed to a live support agent with a seamless transition. This is a win for the customer getting what they need quickly, the employee staying engaged when necessary on more complicated matters, and even for the chatbot to learn from the human interaction. The question to ask here is where can you implement automation to serve as an aid to your customer experience as well as your employees’ workflow without sacrificing the human connection?

Nail the human component

We’ve already mentioned that the majority of people feel there is something to be desired with the human touch that they receive from the companies they buy from. This gaping void leaves much room for companies to get into markets that may be competitive by offering a unique customer experience with a focus on human interaction. For example, look at the world’s most valuable company, Apple. Ron Johnson, former SVP of retail operations at Apple, started with a simple question, “how do we make love visible to the customer?”. Their design for the Apple store as we know it today came down to two words, enrich lives. When you walk into an Apple store you may see large wooden tables hemmed in by a glass-paneled exterior and accented with modern furniture but beyond the minimalistic interior design is an even more minimalistic retail strategy. Ron says that they wanted to make the focus of the retail store experience their people and then their products.

When you go into an Apple store it’s not seen as a chore but rather an enriching experience with that Apple employee with whom you develop a personal relationship. At our core this is something we crave; we crave to connect with other people, not with chatbots. How can you remove obstacles that keep your customers from having a human interaction?

When you go into an Apple store it’s not seen as a chore but rather an enriching experience with that Apple employee with whom you develop a personal relationship. At our core this is something we crave; we crave to connect with other people, not with chatbots.

Know what your customers want before they tell you

To reference Apple again, Steve Jobs is quoted for saying that he wants them to be “so close to the customer that we know what they want before they even tell us”. Anticipating your customers’ needs and desires requires skillful question asking and listening and only once you’ve mastered these simple yet challenging arts can you begin to create a customer experience that transforms them into raving advocates for your brand. Again, this is an endeavor where humans will always have the edge on AI because a key element is missing for the robot, empathy. Empathy is the human emotion that allows a person to step into another’s shoes and ask “how would I like to be treated if I were them?”. Empathy asks “what must they be feeling right now?”. In short, empathy deflects away from self and seeks the interest of others.

How are you cultivating a culture of empathy around your customer experience? How often are you placing yourself in the shoes of your customers and asking how you would like to be treated if you were them?

AI has its place in the customer experience; however, because of our innately human desire to connect with other humans and humans’ capacity for empathy, this industry does not need to worry about the encroachment of AI. Rather, AI can serve as a tool to enhance the workflow of humans so that they’re better equipped to create a winning experience for the customer.

What will you do to improve the human touch of your brand?

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