Business Tech And The Personal Touch: Striking A Balance

Making customers feel valued is part of building a business, and one which has become arguably more difficult in the modern age, where deadlines are also a major part of the process. If you are looking for two qualities in this world that are tricky to balance, then it would be hard to find a more obvious example than speed and diligence. So as a new business trying to mark yourself out in the marketplace, it’s worth focusing on how you’ll achieve this.

The need to do things at speed and with accuracy has meant a larger role for tech in modern business. And technology has allowed us to do wonderful things – we can hold Zoom meetings across several continents. We can run simultaneous translations on calls between organisations in different countries. One thing that technology has struggled to do is hold up humanity’s ability to see to it that the personal touch is maintained. Finding ways to do this will help you deliver the best results for your business.

Use tech where it is needed, but don’t go overboard

You may have noticed a trend when calling a business or a public body, where you are greeted by a voicemail message that says something along the lines of “If you are trying to do [x], then did you know you can do this on our website?”, a question to which the answer is always “Yes, I’ve been on your website, that’s where I got this number, I’m calling about something else.”. There is, unfortunately, a tendency for firms to try and filter people out of the communication system to an automated process – and it can go too far.

By all means you should make it possible for your customers to do what they need to via an automated system – this will go down especially well with those customers who struggle with verbal communication or those with other restrictions. It should not, however, be an automatic assumption that people will want to do things this way. Automated payment lines are very handy for people who just want to pay and go. For people who have follow-up questions or want confirmation that their payment has actually gone through, being pushed towards an automated service can be very irritating.

Be prepared to take a hybrid approach

Anyone who has worked in customer service will know that it’s not uncommon to go from a call where one customer wants extensive changes made to an order, a letter sent out to confirm those changes and also has a query about something they purchased in 2017, to another call where someone just wants to know what their account balance is. These are two very different types of call, and one of them absolutely needs to be handled by a person. In other cases, all of the information needed can be furnished by a software program.

This is why there is a lot to be said for web chat software as part of your customer-facing website. A customer who has a relatively simple query can get answers from a chatbot without needing to go through several stages of enquiry to get to the bottom of things. This ensures that there are more human operators free to deal with the more intensive enquiries. If the customer speaking to a chatbot should suddenly need more in-depth information, they can request to speak to a person. This works best all-round, as operators can be more friendly and empathetic with customers when there isn’t a long call queue to bust.

Don’t use scripts or autoresponses on live chat

If you’ve ever held a conversation with someone who has just learned a new word and is keen to use it as much as possible, you’ll know what it is often like to communicate with a live chat bot. These responses aren’t always 100% autogenerated, but they might operate based on a script, or have templates that can be improvised upon. It’s not advisable to make much use of these templates or scripts, particularly in live chat conversations, because they have a tendency to lean on a certain way of speaking, which can depersonalise the experience for the customer.

The primary benefit of tech in business is to make things more convenient, but customers will be the judges of what they find to be convenient. And naturally, it’s important to have some other rules around the use of live chat clients. For example, an operator should ideally stick to fairly formal ways of expressing themselves unless it is made clear by the customer that they’re happy to use abbreviated text speak or even emoji. As these are digital communications, they are covered by data protection law and have to be held on record – so unless you’d be happy with these messages being read out in a courtroom, they shouldn’t be sent.

Always make it clear when a person is speaking, and when it’s a bot

A lot of businesses like to use chatbots, but make them more human-like to put customers at their ease. The logic behind this is understandable, but ironically it might have the opposite impact – a sort of Uncanny Valley effect that often occurs when something is designed to be highly lifelike but just isn’t quite right in some way. If a person is speaking to a bot, they should know this – not least because there are different ways to communicate with a bot and with a human.

Most chatbots, if they are designed to direct a user to a helpful page or site, will do so by reading the content of a message for keywords. They won’t read a message in the same way that a human would, and can end up offering frustrating, inaccurate assistance that is of no use to the customer. If the customer knows they are speaking to a bot, they can change their language accordingly, adopting a less conversational tone.

The use of technology to make your business communications more convenient is potentially a very positive step, but you need to know how best to use it – picking the right situations is essential.