That’s What Friends Are For

That’s What Friends Are For

I’m just back from a two-day expo at London’s Excel, dedicated to a gamut of services from call and contact centre technologies, to CX strategies and B2B marketing and sales. It was pretty full-on. 

I had some amazing conversations, attended some inspirational talks, met up again with old colleagues and acquaintances, and saw tech and product demo after tech and product demo. (And I had canapés and champagne on a yacht, too.)

What’s fascinating about being immersed in such intense people-and-opinion-filled environments, is how you can come across entirely conflicting opinions and personalities within a stand or two:

  • A conversation about collaboration followed, two stands along, by “Oh, I think we might be competitors”, and prompt dismissal. 
  • A demo of the latest and greatest tech followed, two stands later, by something that seemed sorely dated. 
  • A presentation evangelising for permission-based work cultures, followed by a talk on how to accurately mould and measure business process and metrics.
  • Stand after stand of AI-based tech and chatbots, amid the backdrop of a clear and ringing call for more humanity in our relationships with customers.

It’s this last point, I think, which I have spent the most time mulling over in the last 24 hours. 

I got talking to Christian Colding (VP of Product at Dixa, the Danish-born “Customer Friendship Platform”), after his presentation on the anatomy of ‘customer friendships’. We both had stories to share about playing the game of ‘dodge the bot’, just to get to talk to a human. SHOUTING at chat bots. Using sites like to get around irritating phone menus. Repeatedly pressing 0 to get to the operator. Using “other…other…other” on when some AI form tries to pigeonhole our problem. 

We all have these stories. As clever as AI gets, we can still, pretty much, spot the moment the Turing test is failed, and your ‘case’ is handed to a human. When it’s that obvious, how valuable is any engagement done before the real interaction begins?

In customer service, scalability and cost saving are often valued over innovation and relationships. Ticket deflection and self service are king. Companies pride themselves on reducing case volumes by reducing customer interactions. But if you deflect 70% of your tickets, do you deflect 70% of the relationship at the same time? In striving to be more responsive to our customers, do we actually lose their trust, and therefore, their loyalty?

Attending events like this Expo, it becomes apparent the profession hasn’t quite made up its mind. The dichotomy of driving down costs, versus nurturing and investing in the human relationships is being played out exhibition stand by exhibition stand

We are standing at the edge of a change in service, and I think we are also standing at the edge of a way in which organisations relate to each other. There are those who are willing to partner and lift up other businesses, in the same way they see the benefits of partnering and ‘befriending’ their customers. Collaboration instead of competition. Friendship and partnership, instead of service. 

I think the answer is, as always, that we should build software that supports those relationships, rather than replaces them. Technology that allows us to track, interact and partner with our customers and fellow professionals more efficiently, but also with more empathy and efficacy – that is the future.