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Automation Cannot Completely Replace Human Interaction in the Contact Center

automationI spent a lot of my early career wondering not if, but when robots would take over my job and leave me unemployed. In contact centers, we are currently trying to figure out the keys to automating the customer experience with enhancements to IVRs, websites, chatbots, and PC emulation. The problem, though, is that we will never be able to fully automate the customer experience.

In my years as a call center agent, analyst, and project manager, I have listened to and read many comments from customers complaining about "not being able to talk to a real person." This need for empathy and a human connection to solve simple and complex problems is not something that will ever be replaced.

Close your eyes. You're walking into your favorite fancy restaurant for a relaxing evening out. When you walk in the door, you punch your reservation number into a touchscreen. The screen then tells you which numbered table you will be enjoying your dinner at. You arrive at your table and find a tablet with the restaurant's menu on it. You place your order and pay for it, all via the tablet. Your food is delivered by a person, who places the plates in front you, tells you to enjoy your meal, and walks away. Wait, though! You forgot to order the broccoli! You pull out the tablet with the menu again and....

Now open your eyes. At a high-end restaurant, known for in-person human interactions, it just wouldn’t make sense to automate the whole experience. The interaction is part of the experience. The server most likely is trained to take your food order, bring you your food, and, most importantly, connect with you and give you a reason to come back to their brand.

We are all laser-focused in our roles on lowering AHT and increasing productivity in the hopes of raising our NPS (Net Promoter Score). The question is, how do we accomplish this with the drive to automation that so many of us are experiencing?

Back in the fancy restaurant, our goal was to get our broccoli that we forgot to order. With the understanding that mistakes will be made, there needs to be a process to correct mistakes, whether they are made by the company or the customer. In the restaurant case, the quickest and best experience for the customer would be for an empathetic server to come to the table and apologize for the experience, promise to fix it, and fix it. In our contact centers, we strive for this perfect balance of automation and human empathy.

We achieve this balance by focusing just as hard on who we hire and how we train and coach as we do on what we automate and how. When our customers contact us, sometimes they just want to make a payment, schedule a visit, or order a product. When customer requirements fall into that gray area or a system or process fails, their needs quickly transition into an opportunity to build our brands with an understanding, empathetic voice that is willing to create a human connection and help. Only then will our customers truly receive the broccoli.