I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Parts of Customer Service That Should Never Be Automated” by Ryan W. Buell. It offered an interesting perspective regarding the impact of automation on customer service and human interaction.
Automation may be viewed as an opportunity to decrease the cost of wages and benefits; increase customer satisfaction through convenience and customization; and provide the customer with more control over their experiences. We all want more satisfaction and control for less money. Why should a business be any different? But these opportunities may not result in the changes envisioned.
Customers may feel the need to contact a person to assist them, which could result in the need for more staff (instead of less) being required to meet the needs of customers. People are also social creatures, and despite the convenience automation can provide, they may get value from interacting with each other. If you take away the opportunity for interaction, their level of satisfaction is likely to decrease.
There is a strong argument against automating certain jobs and tasks, where a human element can make all the difference. There are instances where being able to interact with someone who can understand emotion and respond accordingly may be valuable. If you are brainstorming and need more ideas, or if you’re looking for a creative solution to a problem, wouldn’t you prefer to interact with a person instead of a computer? If you were contacting an insurance company to make a claim regarding death benefits, wouldn’t you prefer to receive comfort and condolences from a human voice than from a robotic one? Would you feel your loved one received a proper tribute if their funeral or memorial service was presided over by a robot instead of a human? Unfortunately, some companies have taken the automation process too far --- per the article, MetLife customers who call MetLife to settle a death-related insurance claim are treated to digital condolences from a robotic voice. In Japan, a robot named “Pepper” was originally designed for the noble purpose of being an elder companion has now been re-purposed for use in a variety of service roles, including the role of a priest to preside over funeral services.
As association professionals, we need to achieve the right balance between the use of automation and a high level of customer service that makes our clients feel valuable to the organization. The challenge is in designing that balance to align with the organization’s mission and goals. Our association automated the membership application process to reduce staff time spent on data entry and to save paper. We send members an automated “welcome” email with information about next steps for maximizing their membership, but also make a personal phone call to welcome them to the association and answer any questions they may have. This is just one example of how you can achieve an effective balance of automation and customer service in your association.
Has your organization achieved an effective balance?