The Effortless Experience
The ideal balance between technology and humans differs for every business, and it’s dangerous to assume that replacing employees with technology will automatically increase efficiency. However, what we do know is that customers always choose the most effortless experience. Whether they’re looking for a quick fix, or a longer journey, we can use technology to enhance the efficiency of both machine and human agents.
Last week, I went to the grocery store in preparation for a New Year’s healthy eating detox. For the first time in a while, I opted for the self-checkout aisle to avoid the extra-long lines. Tasked with identifying various produce items before weighing and bagging them, I started to get a little flustered. Was this a yam or a sweet potato? Did I pick the organic or non-organic bananas? And, the age old question: are tomatoes fruits or vegetables? Confused, I accidentally selected the wrong item and realized there was no way to delete it from my purchases. I desperately pressed the “Customer Help” button, cringing at the flashing red light above my kiosk. I couldn’t help but imagine that every person in line behind me was plotting to publicly oust me as a self-checkout failure.
While I admit to some dramatization, it was obvious that my choice to use the self-service lane was not the optimal choice. With the variety of produce I was buying, I would have benefited from a cashier’s knowledge of item codes and grocery-bagging expertise. On the other hand, if I was purchasing one pre-packaged item, my self-checkout experience would have been a stress-free scan, pay, and walk out the door. Through this slip-up, I decided how I would make future check-out decisions, to save me the most time and energy. In this way, all customers desire an effortless experience, and make choices based on what they perceive to require the least amount of effort.
But, does the more technology-based option always optimize ease and efficiency? As my grocery store trip demonstrates, most certainly not. Since customers have varying circumstances, the best practice is to offer a variety of high-quality options. Many times in the world of IVR, there is this assumption that all customers prefer a live agent. We refer to this as the “Live Agent Myth,” because we can’t possibly know what every customer prefers. And a variety of options is great, but quantity is nothing without quality. The functionality of technology is just as important as having a variety of options. If I thought the self-checkout at a grocery store had outdated scanners, I’d probably be less inclined to choose that option; it would be a different story if technology allowed me to simply park my cart, have my items automatically scan, and charge to my store account. The same applies to voice self-service options for customers. Customers who state a preference for “talking to a real person” may perceive the alternate self-service options as being inefficient and require high levels of effort. If a company’s IVR is inefficient and difficult to use, it’s likely that the customer wants a human operator for reasons other than just a human touch. It’s that the other self-service options are unreliable. Ultimately, an inefficient choice is perceived as no choice at all, regardless of the method through which it’s delivered.
Of course, not everything is about efficiency or a quick solution. In some situations, customers are seeking a longer, more interpersonal experience rather than simply reaching a destination. That’s why any task involving empathy, compassion, critical thinking, or persuasion, is best left to humans. Someone like me, who enjoys shopping, likely cherishes the process of picking out items and getting advice. A human agent is usually the better guide for such journeys, at least until we can program machines with more emotional intelligence.
For now, IVRs excel at a variety of mid-level complexity tasks, such as routing calls to the appropriate departments, which saves costs on live operators. Using artificial intelligence, automation can judge the complexity of a call and help customers determine the best option for them, whether it means moving forward with automation or transferring to a live agent. In this way, the self-service option is increasing the efficiency of any customer experience because it helps them complete their task in the best way. And as customers have better experiences with more capable self-service systems, they will begin to prefer it, rather than waiting on hold for the once-coveted live agent. Much like the self-checkout line at the grocery store, voice self-service can really improve the efficiency of transactions when used correctly.
About the Author: Diane Um
Diane Um is a marketing intern at SmartAction, where she has uncovered a fascination with all things artificial intelligence. She is currently in her last semester at the University of Southern California (fight on!), where she studies economics and public policy.