In 2015, Japan introduced us to Henn Na. It was the first hotel in the world completely operated by computers and robots. In January 2019, a growing number of customer complaints led the company to fire 243 of their robotic workers and replace them by humans.
The Henn Na case is extreme. But it illustrates the tension between technology and humanity in customer experience. Companies invest billions in technologies to make experiences easy, predictive and even immersive. However, while helpful, this technology can make customers uncomfortable.
Human vs. Machine - Should we draw a line?
The debate on where to draw the line between humans and machines is interesting, but moot. As customers, our standards are expectations continuously evolve. We complain about ‘everything that those stupid computers get wrong’. But the moment they get it right, we embrace new technologies with a vengeance. So what’s unthinkable today, will be tomorrow’s new ‘normal’. Digitalisation is here to stay.
But it can't fix everything. As it permeates our life, digital teams should remember that:
“As long as people are paying the bills, no amount of digitalisation can ignore that all customer experiences are inherently human.”
So feel free to pursue your dream of a digitally transformed business. But don't let your customer experience lose its humanity in the process.
I've summarised three ways in which you can do this.
#1 Think of ways to make your technology 'feel' human
Steve Jobs was right. You need to "start with the customer experience and work your way back to the technology”. Sadly, many digital initiatives only do this in part. They equate customer experience to simplifying or even eliminating jobs to be done.
This isn’t wrong per se. Using digital tools to eliminate pain points can make our lives easier. But focusing too much on this aspect can make teams miss the bigger picture. This is that differentiated customer experiences are predominantly emotional.
Customers aren’t data-points or rationally minded bio-organic interfaces. They are beautifully irrational, emotional, social and behaviourally flawed individuals. Folks who want to work their way up the Maslow scale. Who just want to be happy, or at least content.
As such, they will appreciate that you eliminate the pain in the jobs they need to get done. But the absence of negative experiences doesn’t add up to a great one. To really get customers to care, your digital tools, interfaces, algorithms and gizmo’s need to connect at a deeper level. Raise the customer’s heartbeat. Make them feel truly understood.
So next time you embark on a digital project, raise the bar. Think about how you can achieve this. What is the customer insight you’re tapping into? How will it get the job done? How will it trigger the emotion you’re looking for? Don't stop, until you're crystal clear about the answer.
#2 Craft human + technology (hybrid) solutions
Still, being realistic, there is a limit to the level of emotions that your technology can elicit. While great progress is being made, today’s and even tomorrow's technology lacks the empathy and familiarity of a human.
ust consider the Tipsy Robot bartender in Las Vegas’ robotic. It may look cool and it can serve 100 drinks an hour in any combination. But can it give you a sympathetic look or pretend to laugh at your jokes?
Compare this to CitizenM hotels. They combine a digital self-check-in for their customers with welcome staff that actually has time to have a chat with new guests as they arrive. And if needed, do the check-in for them. Or Amazon Go, where people walk in and out of the store without passing a cash-register. And where staff has the time to offer help to customers proactively (when did that last happen in your local supermarket?).
The desire to ‘make customers self-sufficient’ is often corporate speak for ‘can we use technology to cut costs?’. But take a breather before you replace your people with machines. Look at ways to leverage the free staff time your digital solution creates. If you combine humans with technology, can you deliver and generate even more value. Create even better and richer experiences?
Whether online or in real life, human employees are still the most advanced experience personalisation engine around. And they’re by far the most qualified to make your customers smile.
#3 Humanise your business
Finally, it's time to get philosophical. Especially in the West, customers are getting increasingly annoyed by unsustainable, tax-avoiding, money-above-everything corporate behaviours. Soon, this irritation will also affect their spending habits.
Whether you think this is a good or bad development, depends on your political conviction. But topics like purpose, sustainability and fair trade are moving out of the fringes. They are becoming mainstream. In the coming decade they will actually become customer expectations.
Companies that can align themselves with this changing mindset, will continue to flourish. Those that can‘t stand up to scrutiny, will start feeling the heat.
As Gilette, Pepsi and others experienced, this path isn’t easy to walk. But the good news is that the world isn’t burning yet. There’s still plenty of time to plan a humane transformation for your business. Provided you start today.
My final 2 cents
None of the above paths are easy. And I'm definitely not claiming to have all the answers. But as we augment our customer experiences through deep learning, 5G and intelligent interfaces, we should never lose sight of the end goal. This is that every digital initiative should enhance the ability to deliver and capture customer value.
From the customer's perspective this value is partially rational, and largely emotional. And it needs to be managed as such.
I wrote this article as a warm-up for the friendly 'keynote battle' that I'll be engaging in on 28/02 with Geert Martens at the CUBE Conference on 'Humanizing data in a digital world'.
If you'd like to discuss or explore the topic a little more, feel free to come by, or get in touch for a (virtual) coffee.
(c) 2019, Alain Thys, all rights reserved
This article first appeared on www.customerfit.eu
In the 1970s, the British economist Charles Goodhart had an insight. He found that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes”.
This statement is pretty dry and hermetic. But it is something that every customer experience professional should be aware of. Because in regular-people-speak it translates as: “when a measure becomes a target, it stops being a good measure”.
The reason for this is simple. When presented with an outside target, humans will always seek the path of lowest effort to achieve it. Especially if the target is connected to some sort of reward or punishment.
At some point in our lives, we have all done this. In school, we were evaluated on our grades. So the ’smart’ kids knew to prioritise the memorisation of mindless facts over actual learning. And if one exam questions returned ever year, this would move to the front of the study queue.
This behaviour exists everywhere. The pressure to perform makes researchers, academics and data scientists manipulate their data (aka. p-hacking). Online targets like number of followers or likes have created fraudulent bots. Politicians fix unemployment by excluding categories of people, rather than creating more jobs.
And yes, employees manipulate customer happiness scores. Not because they are evil. But because for many it’s not just the easiest thing to do, it’s also the smartest.
It's common sense
Think about it. Imagine you are a store manager or are a machine maintenance worker who visits clients. You just got the target to improve your Net Promoter or Customer Satisfaction score by 15%.
Now, especially as a front line employee, you know that customer happiness is a very complex thing. Even if you put in 200% of effort, a product flaw or a policy outside of your control can totally mess up your targets.
So you have one of two choices:
In my experience, most people start off with option 1. They actually want to do a good job and make customers happy. But this changes when they realise that their managers only care about the numbers. Then, they start shifting to option 2.
At this point, they get creative about manipulating the score. They tell customers that only 9 or 10 count as satisfied. They only give surveys to customers who are clearly happy. They bribe. They beg. Or they use any other gaming trick in the book.
It may only start with one employee in one week. But once people see that this gets management off their back, it spreads like wildfire. Especially if can help them get that Christmas bonus.
It's a path of no return.
But it gets worse. Once these practices take hold, they are very difficult to end. Honest reporting could make the scores plummet and then everyone would look bad. Especially the managers who’ve been putting the pretty growth numbers into pretty PowerPoint slides.
So you may end up with a situation where a lot of people know that the numbers are BS, but pretends otherwise as this would upset the status quo. And while everyone is busy manipulating the numbers, the conversation shifts further and further from the customer.
No one is immune
Now just in cas you think that Goodhart's law only applies to front line employees, let me tell you the case of a country CEO and his management team I encountered.
They were given a new set of stiff Net Promoter targets which they felt were out of their reach. So they found a simpler solution. Instead of improving the customer experience, they simply fired their unhappy customers (detractors).
As a result, their Net Promoter Score shot up and Christmas bonuses were safe. In fact, the CEO got to speak at the next global company summit. The topic: his country's customer-centric transformation.
So while I'm not saying that a Net Promoter target can never be useful, I have learned to thread very carefully. Instead, I found it makes much more sense to measure and reward people's behaviour towards the customer.
The scores are then a consequence, rather than a goal.
If you want the tools to make your customer voice programme hit all the 'right notes', check out the Customerfit Academy sprint pack 'Listening to and acting on the customer voice' or get in touch for an informal chat with me or one of the Customerfit coaches.
This article first appeared on www.customerfit.eu
(c) 2018 - Alain Thys, all rights reserved.
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.