Is human connection a pillar of your brand? Are your people central to your company's core values? If so, your customer service should be staffed by employees who know how to add a human touch. Otherwise, your customer service will undermine your message and leave customers feeling you’re conflicted and out of sync.
What it Means to Have a Human Touch
But what exactly does the human touch mean? In his new book Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, New York Times columnist Kevin Roose provides lots of clues. His goal is to pinpoint those attributes that separate our intelligence from AI and, in doing so, show how we can ensure our own job longevity. For instance, we're good at being surprising and handling unpredictable situations. That means you want to play that strength up because AI and robots struggle with inconsistencies.
To show just how poorly robots perform when dealing with surprises, Roose cites an experiment in which a robot was shown a living room and asked to identify its contents. It did well. That was until a picture of an elephant was put in the room. Then, not only did the robot not know what the picture was, it was thrown off, super confused, and unable to identify even ordinary sofas and chairs.
But a picture of an elephant would never stop us in our tracks. Humans are so good at handling discrepancies and irregularities that we barely notice this skill.
We're also adept at combining information and ideas from different bodies of knowledge. This is key to problem-solving, which is, on its most fundamental level, what customer service is asked to do.
And when we try, we know how to convey empathy and create a sense of safety. For instance, if you call 911, most of us would want a human, not a robot.
Putting this Together for Customer Service
Putting this together for customer service, if you want your associates to add a human touch, they need to solve customers' questions in ways that unequivocally show they care and are listening.
Keep in mind that to get to the bottom of customers' questions often means not just solving the question or problem at hand but solving unstated problems too. For example, if a customer asks about whether you add sales tax for their state, it's likely they want to know what other charges to expect. When they put together your return policy, shipping fees, and taxes, how will you compare with Amazon?
Are you adding a human touch? Here are two questions you can ask yourself to determine the extent to which your customer service adds a human touch.
1: Do your customer service associates know when to add a human touch?
To answer this question, you need to have detailed descriptions for all your positions that involve customer service. Detailed descriptions not only help with making training scalable, they also help associates to understand the breadth and depth of your expectations.
With your descriptions in hand, go through them page by page, and identify where the human touch can be added. Explain how the human touch will amplify your customer interactions and make them better.
Pay Attention to Goodbyes: We tend to be disproportionally affected by how experiences end. So, pay careful attention to how you can add a human touch as your associates say goodbye.
While the end of a customer service interaction is brief, when done well, a good ending (also known as an uptick) lifts the conversation in a positive, relevant way.
For example, years ago, I was about to give a presentation when my projector suddenly stopped syncing with my laptop. Anxiously, as the clock ticked closer to my start time, I called the projector company. Their associate walked me through the fix and then ended the call with "have a great presentation!"
Not every customer on the phone was minutes away from presenting, so it was a decidedly personalized and unscripted way to end the call. Most importantly, it got me out of my head that was clogged with laptop problems and back on track with my goal which was to delight my audience. Clearly, it was a good uptick because I still remember that experience today.
2: Do your customer service evaluations specifically look for the human touch?
The first step is to identify how your customer service could be more human. But you also need to measure how often and to what extent those qualities are acted on. This is your set of standards and criteria that managers as well as outsiders will use to evaluate your service against.
Examples of the human touch that can be measured include:
- Did the associate act proactively? For example, if the customer is asking for a product that you no longer make, did they explain why and offer an alternate selection?
- Did they listen empathetically and if needed, apologize in a way that sounds sincere?
- Did they have a friendly and engaging tone of voice?
- Did they use affirming words to make the customer feel cared for when dealing with a difficult issue?
- Did the experience end in a way that leaves the customer better off than where they started?
Double Down and Explain the Specifics
In considering what it means to add a human touch and which tasks are uniquely suited to human intelligence is inherently interesting. It's certainly worth asking yourself: What about your job would be difficult for a robot to do?
Roose found that as a journalist, there were some kinds of stories that basically came from the AP wire that a robot could replicate. So, he started taking on deeper, more complex stories.
Not every company needs to add a human touch to their customer service. For example, companies that trade in low price, a well-advertised brand, or are product-driven may not benefit from this.
But if you are a people-first company, then you'll want to double down on explaining the specifics of what the human touch means for your customer service. And it will be just as important to have a program for how you'll measure and improve it.
Looking to the future, across all industries and jobs, we can expect more automation, and greater use of AI. But still there will be special cases, perhaps yours included, that will benefit from adding a human touch.
What do you think? Does your customer service need a human touch?
About Martha Brooke, Blackbelt 6 Sigma & CCXP
Martha founded Interaction Metrics to bring a science-based approach to customer experience measurement and improvement.
About Interaction Metrics
Interaction Metrics is a customer experience research agency. Methods include customer satisfaction surveys, tracking studies, and customer service evaluations. Interested in how Interaction Metrics implements customer service evaluations? Learn more about their approach here.