Customer service: From toasters to friends [Max Yogoro]

Customer service: From toasters to friends

I recently went through an issue while shopping online that illustrates fundamental flaws when we think about automation on customer service.
The initial problem was quite simple so let us go through it as quickly as possible:

  1. While purchasing a product, I used the coupon/discount code from one of the store’s promotions
  2. The discount was displayed, presented as correctly granted, and everything was as expected
  3. I purchased the product
  4. On the following confirmation page and email, there was no discount at all. Full price shinning
  5. I reached out to their customer service with a reasonable request: keep the purchase and reimburse me only on the expected discount.

As a customer, honestly, I was not that bothered. The purchase was not that big, and the lost discount was not that valuable. That kind of thing… you just let it go and do not buy from them anymore.

However, when you work with ‘Design stuff’ [in my case, building and improving products, services, and businesses] you develop a weird curiosity for this kind of situation. I was craving to see how they would respond.

Getting to the current [final, I believe] status: no reimbursement ever happened and they simply stopped replying. Here are some further stats: 9 sent emails, 11 received emails, and a collection of arguments and requests [between brackets, my comments], like:

  • “… the discount code you used was *** [a completely different code from the one I actually used] and the purchased product was not part of this special sale. Therefore, the discount will not be given.”
  • “Your request has already been met. Feel free to get in touch anytime.” [no, wait, it was not]
  • “Discounted prices that are displayed on other websites are not valid. [something that I never mentioned since I got the discount on their own website] The only valid price is the one on our website on the purchasing moment.” [well, that was the point]
  • “Please, could you send a print of your pre-purchase screen with the price and the time?” [how much should a person not trust a store to take a photo/screenshot of the price tag before purchasing a product? In such distrust level, would a person make a purchase at all or simply move to another store?]

While the outcome was obviously disappointing, the customer service journey, similar to many out there, brought some reflections.

Replying, but not replying

Apart from a few automatic ‘hold-on-and-we-will-get-back-in-touch-soon’ emails, their replies were handled by real people [yes, I took the time to confirm it] and revealed a striking lack of empathy, attention, and commitment to customer satisfaction. Three aspects deserve our attention:

  • Replies were mostly made out of pre-built text blocks, which were so inadequate that at some point I truly asked the store’s team if they actually read my request at all
  • They were filled with advertising phrases, like “We are here to help you in any situation”, and “We offer an exclusive service for you”
  • They promoted other products and promotions, like “We have exclusive offers today in a partnership with &&&, why not seizing this opportunity?”, and “Things will get even better if you use our [branded] credit card”

Needless to say how much all this content was useless. But things could be different, right?!

Robotized humans and humanized bots

Let us consider 4 approaches to customer service, in different empathy levels, with humans and bots/AI [artificial intelligence].

Chatbots: when automatic conversational interfaces talk to you. They are gradually conquering and building new spaces. Significant improvements are taking place. Some are interesting [Why the rudest chatbot is the best chatbot and Chatbots round-up #6: the best bots of the month], some are funny [Why chatbots fail], and some not so much [Stand-Up Comedy Using Only Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Home].

Humanbots: when customer service people talk to you like reductionist robots — expected inputs are successfully turned into expected outputs, while unclear or unstructured inputs lead to confusion and paralysis. Adaptability, empathy, and creativity are thrown away. Humanbots are way more expensive than chatbots and way less effective than the [following] customer humanized service.

Customer humanized service: when real people talk to you like nice real people. Not exactly a trend but kind of a counter-trend that is disrupting industries that are routinely bad at customer service. Strengthened by companies like Amazon and Netflix. In Brazil, for example, Nubank [digital credit card] and Neon [digital bank] are newsworthy for their customer service approaches, which are completely different from what you might get from your traditional bank.

Incredibly smart AI [artificial intelligence]: when artificial intelligence talk to you like nice real people. We are getting there, faster and faster. Google assistant, Siri, and VIV [acquired by Samsung] all look like magic when compared to what we had not so many years ago. Just give nerds* a bit more time.

People know that talking to their best wise friend is surely better than talking to a toaster. Some organizations know as well. They are evolving their chatbots into incredibly smart AI’s.

Therefore, those who do not deliberately transform their humanbot approach might quickly find themselves on the costly and/or ineffective position of their market. Oh… and of course, robotized people are rarely deeply happy, strongly engaged or performing at their best.

Make your choices

Strategies are choices. Choices guide actions. Actions build paths. Paths define outcomes.


*Nerds, talking about super smart AI’s, please, do not create the Skynet.

Jun 21, 2017
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