Have you had any issues with your HR software in the last couple of years? Did you need to speak to a human agent? Did you end up thinking that you’d have more success loading up your unicorn lasso, packing a fairy lure, and heading off after a rainbow, with a leprechaun’s song on your lips, and a dream of gold in your heart? Well, you’re not alone. And while chasing rainbows might be quite fun—and doesn’t hurt the old step counter—chasing contact numbers is right up there with rice cakes as one of the most boring and unrewarding things to exist in modern Britain. In fact, even rice cakes are better—at least you know exactly what you’re in for with a rice cake and if you eat enough of them, they can—we have been reliably informed—sate your hunger. But there is no upside to clicking endless ‘contact us’ links, which never seem to lead to a telephone number, or even an email… not even an address… the truth is that we’d settle for carrier pigeon at this point. There’s no fun to be found on the endless merry-go-round of an automated phone call, that never leads to a customer service agent. And how frustrating to be met with a relentlessly chirpy chatbot that is resistant to answering every form of the question ‘Can I speak to a human?’… ‘Comment puis-je parler à une personne en direct?’… ‘Where’s your owner?’… ‘Pretty please, nice chatbot, can I speak to a human agent’… does anybody out there have a chatbot cookie?
Call us crazy (which you probably are after that intro), but HR is all about dealing with people, so where have all the humans gone? What’s happened to the mythical customer service teams, once so widespread across the British Isles?
Just like you, and 79% of consumers, we want the option to speak to a person. So, what’s going on with customer services in the 2020s?
The invasion of the chatbot
Thought leaders, well-meaning blogs, and alarming numbers of organisations seem to be hailing chatbots as the answer to all customer service woes.
Please don’t get us wrong. We love conversational AI chatbots. Ours is called HR HaRry. We feed him ‘data and logic pudding’ and tell him bedtime stories about his royal heritage. But chatbots can’t and shouldn’t replace humans. What they should do is empower humans, and that includes both customers and customer service agents.
A great chatbot can intelligently route customer queries to the right agent. Data like agent expertise, training, experience, and past performance on certain topics can be used to match the best agent to the customer’s needs. Even customer intent, mood, communication style, and past preferences can be accounted for in finding a good agent match.
Conversational chatbots can also be used to great effect in providing instant and informative responses for standard and common queries. They can also anticipate what a customer’s next actions or requirements might be and offer helpful guidance around the clock.
Through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), and chat applications, conversational AI chatbots can mimic human interaction. But the key word is ‘mimic’. They can never ‘be’ human, which means that we know that we’re not speaking to a human. We know that any empathy is carefully contrived and coded. Chatbots don’t make us feel any more important or special than getting an email that says ‘Hi Frank’ at the top. Gone are the days that we’ll be impressed by a ‘Hi Frank’ email… and who’s Frank anyway? Oh yeah, that pseudonym that you used a few years back to enter a prize draw for a free holiday.
So, can everyone stop giving chatbots a bad name by using them as guardians instead of helpers? HR HaRry is great. It’ll get you to where you need to be. It’ll give you all that you need to self-serve at record speed. It’ll say all the right things, even at 3AM (because we told it to). But what it won’t do, is stop you from getting to the humans. In fact, it’ll send you to just the right human for you.
If you thought it couldn’t get worse than replacing humans with chatbots, think again. Some companies, and sadly many HR software companies among them, have replaced humans with… email forms.
Now, we’re not one of those companies that think email is dead. We like email. Email has its place, and apparently that place is fourth most popular customer experience channel right after speaking to an agent on the phone, visiting a bricks-and-mortar location, and visiting a company website. In fact, email is very well suited to B2B, complex enquiries, and complaints.
But if a company is going to use email as their chosen customer service channel, then they’d better be fast to hit that reply button and answer the query in one email. Over half of consumers say that they’d reach for the telephone if their email isn’t answered quickly enough or if the answer is unsatisfactory. It’s also important that organisations that are using third-party or separate customer support desks make sure that any transition is seamless. Otherwise, their logged in or subscribed customers might be left wondering why they have to re-enter all their contact details just to send a quick query. And remember, nobody ever (EVER) said, “I just love those no-reply email addresses”. They block the natural flow of interaction, are frustrating, and nearly always end up at the bottom of a spam-box.
Why’s everyone going digital?
While it might seem like businesses have replaced human interaction with a host of digital channels to save money, there are more customer-centric reasons too. For example, customer services were often outsourced (or a combination of outsourced and inhouse) which meant frustrating transfers, having to reexplain issues, long wait times, and an overall poor experience for everyone involved. Cutting out phone support seemed, for many brands, to be a good solution. But according to PwC’s Future of Customer Experience report, 32% of consumers would walk away from a company after one bad customer experience (CX), 42% would pay more for a better CX, and 82% want more human interaction. We didn’t need those figures to know that cutting direct human support is a mistake. We’re reminded of that every time we search for a phone number or a live-chat option and can’t find it. But it’s good to know that the numbers support our personal experiences.
The bottom line is this: There is no way to build a meaningful relationship—whether that’s with a friend, a colleague, a partner, a family member, a customer, or a business—without trust and integrity. And how can organisations expect their customers to trust them, when the organisations themselves can’t trust their customers with something as simple as a direct phone number? Instead, they hide their email address behind forms, their physical address behind PO Boxes, and their telephone number behind chatbots. The natural question follows, “What else are they hiding?”
But how can companies strike the right balance between digital and human customer service options?
Generation Alpha have the answer
You may be familiar with the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, but we’d like you to meet Gen Alpha. They’re the preteens of today and the consumers (and HR professionals) of tomorrow. According to research they will respond to customer service approaches that are authentic, personal, transparent, and ethical, expecting “instant, seamless digital experiences across the same channels they use to communicate with friends, family, and teammates”. And no offence HaRry, but nobody uses a chatbot to talk to their nearest and dearest (… well almost nobody. We wouldn’t put it past a few members of our Engineering department).
Instead, omnichannel communication such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Apple Messages for Business, Twitter, phone and video calls… and yes, chatbots and email too, will engage and empower customers. And unified, cross-channel interactions will empower agents and improve their experience too, allowing them to know their customer in advance, as well as giving them the flexibility to work remotely and flexibly.
But for the organisations that have gone from customer service teams, to live chats, to chatbots, and finally to email only, the future doesn’t look bright. So, if you’ve suddenly discovered that you have no way of talking to your HR software provider, you can either hang around outside their headquarters (if you can find them) clapping 3 times, and shouting ‘we do believe in customer services’, or you can just come to SenseHR—we’re still believers and always will be!