Can Artificially Intelligent Robots Keep Customers Happy?

by Chris Bjorklund

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We all have stories about calling an airline, a hotel or a cable company and reaching a robot instead of a human being. Many companies created “contactless customer service” systems before the pandemic and these systems are even more widespread now. The question on my mind is, have companies gone too far with automating their customer service with chatbots and computer-generated responses?

We know that companies are saving money by hiring fewer call center representatives in our tight labor market, but are they losing a vital connection to their customers? Consumers complain that even when their problems are solved by an automated system (for example, a flight change), they’re left with an uncomfortable feeling that the issue isn’t truly resolved. And it’s still true that many people don’t easily connect with technology.

While customer service departments work out the kinks in their automated response systems, it’s important to remember that there are some useful tricks to reach a real human being. If you’re getting choices on a phone menu, use any of these words instead of the given options: “agent,” “help,” “representative” or “operator.” When customer service departments’ emails are boilerplate, try asking for a manager’s email and start your inquiry again. I’ve even called a different department altogether and asked to be transferred to a person in customer service. And if you’re working with a representative after a long time on hold, be sure to ask for their direct phone number in case you’re disconnected or confirm that they’ll call you back.

One consumer expert believes the future of customer service is self-service. While this may unfortunately be true, those companies will lose customers over time. Of course, most of us eventually find some automated customer services to be convenient, like refilling prescription drugs. But not all service problems can be neatly summarized with a few limited options. When you have difficulty reaching a company with a particular problem that doesn’t appear on the menu, make sure you volunteer to take their customer satisfaction survey (if they offer one). Make it clear that you’re not happy with their service and explain why. Even better, write to the CEO and demand a response.

I hope companies eventually find the right mix of technology and live agents as part of a larger customer service strategy to create a positive overall experience and greater satisfaction for consumers. 

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