Customer service is the foundation of almost every business, but in an age of technology, the goalposts are gradually changing. Thanks to innovations with artificial intelligence systems and robots, customer service doesn’t automatically mean human-on-human contact anymore. Indeed, with companies such as Samsung adding robotic vacuums to digital assistants like Amazon, it seems as though much of our daily lives will soon fall under the influence of automated technology.
However, as impressive as modern technology is, there are some that say nothing can really replace that personal touch we receive from a real person. Yes, computers might be more efficient and not get emotional when we criticize their service (although researchers at Cambridge University feel this may be necessary), but are they really better at serving us? Well, at this stage, it seems as though the jury is out. For example, if we look at the recent rise of chat bots, the reception from consumers has been mixed at best. Back in 2016, Facebook announced that it had 34,000 chat bots on its Messenger service. Using the latest artificial intelligence protocols, these bots are now able to chat with users, answer questions and interact as if they were real people working in customer service for various brands.
Chat Bots Are Helpful, but Not Helpful Enough
“Facebook Messenger app” (CC BY 2.0) by Janitors
Take, for example, travel company Kayak. When it launched its Facebook Messenger chat bot, it allowed users to ask it virtually any travel related question and it would provide an answer. From stuff like “where it hot this time of year” to “which destination can I visit for $500”, the bot was able to provide users with answers and then links to the appropriate content on Kayak.com. However, as impressive as these bots are, Facebook announced in February 2017 that it was scaling back the service. Despite launching its bot API in April 2016, the company has reported a 70% failure rate on many of the third-party chat bots developed. Although Facebook isn’t stopping the initiative completely, a 30% hit ratio on requests would suggest the technology isn’t quite ready. Essentially, it seems that Facebook has tried to push the idea of digital assistants too far, too quickly – and users haven’t responded too kindly.
Similar to chat bots, Amazon Go announced in 2016 that it would be launching a new wave of humanless stores. Offering a similar function to chat bots – the computers could deal with queries and serve customers – the plan is to open 2000 stores in the coming years. But does that mean we’re ready to embrace non-human service completely? Naturally, part of our dissatisfaction with non-human chat hosts is because the technology wasn’t good enough. However, it seems there is still a part of us that wants to know we’re communicating with a real person, even if it’s online. As humans, it seems ingrained in our psyche that we feel more comfortable with a situation when we’re faced with a real person. Part of this is down to our ability to connect with them on a personal level, but on the other hand, it allows us to verify something with our own eyes. Subtle body movements or sense of someone’s demeanor can affect the way we perceive a situation.
A Physical Presence is More Appealing
“Rapid Riffle Shuffle in a Poker Game” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by www.toddklassy.com
One example of this idea in motion can be seen in the iGaming industry. When the first sites started to go live at the turn of the millennium, all of the action was virtual. Random number generator software would perform a series of calculations and spit out a random result. Over the top of this process was a series of animations that would mimic the movements of a real casino game. Although each site’s random number generator was (and still is) controlled and regulated by third-party testing agencies and therefore absolutely legit, there’s always a natural reaction people have to “the unknown”. On the contrary, in a live casino, players can see the cards being shuffled, the roulette wheel in motion and chips moving. Online, however, everything is automated. To overcome this disconnect between the mechanics of a game and the player, sites have introduced live action games in recent years.
Through a combination of HD webcams, RFID chips and specially tailored software, players can take part in a variety of live action casino games via their PC or mobile. When the technology was first introduced in 2003, players only had the choice between blackjack, roulette and, in some cases, blackjack. Not only that, but slow connections made it almost impossible to play. Today, however, improved interfaces and better Internet speeds have lead to an explosion of gaming options. Betway Casino, offers live casino offers eight live gaming options and customers can now play the aforementioned games, as well as Casino Hold’em, 3 Card Poker, Texas Hold’em and Caribbean Stud. Additionally, classic games like roulette have been improved with new “immersive” elements (i.e. close up camera angles) which increase the level of interaction between the player, the dealer and the game itself.
Because these games add a level of realism and interaction the traditional (virtual) online casino games don’t offer, players have been more willing to ante up. Instead of putting their faith in a piece of software known as a random number generator, players can see the cards being shuffled or the wheel being spun. This first-hand experience breeds a greater sense of trust and it’s something computers can’t seem to replicate. Indeed, since live dealer games became popular around 2013, the industry’s value has increased by $15 billion.
Robots Could Bridge the Gap in the Future
“Robot de Martillo” (CC BY 2.0) by luis perez
If we accept the premise that people prefer a human face over an invisible chat bot when they want some sort of service, then that should spell the end for technology in this area, right? Well, not quite. Robots have long been the fascination of sci-fi writers, but it seems that could offer something of a hybrid solution. In Asia, robots are now serving diners food. In 2016, Pizza Hut Japan trialed robot servers in a bid to offset increasing costs through a rise in the minimum wage.
In the same vein, China saw the Taste and Aroma restaurant open in 2016 with a fully-automated waiting team. Now, it’s worth pointing out that robot waiters and waitresses have been around in China since 2014. However, with technology improving, it’s starting to become more common. Unfortunately, as with chat bots, it seems as though the technology isn’t quite there yet. According to a 2016 report by CNN, some restaurant owners have “sacked” their robots because of incompetence.
Naturally, the whims of a few managers shouldn’t confine a whole technological movement to the scrap heap, but it does show that things still have a long way to go before computer rule the service world. Robots could certainly bridge the gap between faceless helpers and physical objects we seem to have more trust in. However, when we strip it all back, there is still a strong case for human interaction being the best form of service. Technology may be able to change this. However, if it does, it certainly won’t be for another few years.