Five Reasons Not to Fear the Robot Apocalypse

Spoken | August 9, 2016

Robot army
HeidiBlog HS by Heidi Miller, Chief Conversation Officer

The machines are taking over. They’re taking our jobs, our children and our very humanity. Machines are better than humans, and there is much to fear.

Ehhhhh…. not so much.

When our excellent Solutions Architect, David Milstein, and I were chatting with the good folks at the Improving Customer Experience podcast yesterday, the question came up: how do employees react at the prospect of an Interactive Voice Response installation? Are they afraid of the IVR taking jobs away from good, hardworking agents in the name of saving money, dehumanizing the customer experience, and paving the way for the robot apocalypse?

Well, that’s not exactly how the question was worded. Good question, though.

Yes, a good IVR will take some of the load off of customer service agents. And it will most likely increase efficiency and save the call center some money and time in the process. What does that mean, though?

  1. Bad robots aren’t smart enough to take over the world. Note I said “a GOOD IVR.” A run-of-the mill IVR installation, designed by engineers who are not interested in the psychology of your customer experience or the elegance of your call flow, will not reduce agent load. In fact, it will assure that your agents get fantastically cranky customers when those callers do finally make it through the IVR.
  2. Robots are best at performing mind-numbingly dull tasks. Unlike humans, robots are really great at doing the same dull, boring task over and over again. What’s your name? Can you please spell your name? What’s your phone number? What’s your customer ID? What issue are you calling about? The kind of routine tasks that drive humans crazy are like crack to a robot. Spell your name for a robot, and he’s happy. Give him your phone number, and he can find you in the system.
  3. Humans are best at solving complex problems. With the exception of some top-secret stuff NASA and the CIA are working on, machines are not very good at solving complex problems. An IVR can take your info, ping a database, and tell you that your order just arrived in Omaha and will arrive at your doorstep by 2:00 p.m. today, but it most likely won’t be able to figure out why some of your account notices have been deleted or advise you as to whether you should order the pomegranite or the merlot skirt for your mom. Humans can. And even when the technology advances so that machines can solve those issues, well, humans just do it better. Humans can reassure the caller that she’s making a good decision or that he just needs to do a quick reboot and check the settings. Sometimes customer service requires more than an answer; it requires a process of discovery two humans need to go on together.
  4. Robots give humans time to do what they do best. Robots separate the wheat from the chaff. They set the table so that the humans can sit down and chat over a nice dinner. The trend towards self-service simply means that humans will be freed to do less mind-numbingly routine tasks and deal with more interesting, complex issues. Self-service machines are taking away jobs from young supermarket checkers, but they are dead-end jobs that don’t promote human growth. So the checkers can now study to be promoted to more managerial and marketing positions, freed (by machines) from the need to perform mundane, repetitive tasks.
  5. I’d rather be a good robot than a bad human. It bears saying, because we’ve all run across them: there are horrible customer service reps that are tired, bored, angry or frustrated, and it comes across during customer interactions. Could be just a bad day, could be a lack of motivation with the job, could be a fight with a spouse that morning, or could just be a case of 10-hour shift. But sometimes, human interaction doesn’t beat interacting with a machine. Sometimes, a good machine can beat a bored human.

In short, no matter how cool robots get, they’ll never be as cool as humans.

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