When it Comes to Service: Beware A Technology-Based Backlash

It’s been said that when you have a “hammer everything looks like nails.” Such is the case with technology!

For quite some time now we’ve all watched technology revolutionize the way service is delivered across the globe. For example, the Internet transformed the travel service industry as sites like Travelocity decreased the need for travel agents and apps like those created by Uber have shaken the world of taxi drivers forever.

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that “artificial intelligence” and robotic computers will replace almost all service professionals. With due respect to the genius of Zuckerberg, I question whether the need for “human service” will ever become extinct.

In support of my argument, I lean on two phenomena: a recent study by Accenture and a hypothesis referred to as the “uncanny valley.”

Accenture recently released a study of 24,489 customers in 33 countries and across 11 industries.

According to that research:

83% of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings.

65% agree in-store service is the best channel for personalized experiences.

Clearly, technology will have a continually important role in service delivery, as evidenced by Accenture’s finding that 73% of study participants expect customer service to be easier and more convenient, and 61% expect it to be faster.

As for robots replacing human beings, imagine a very human-like computer functioning as a front-desk clerk at a high-end hotel. For the sake of this example, further assume everything about the robot approximates a person (skin tone, simulation of breathing, and algorithms that are able to anticipate consumer responses). Let’s even assume the robot can approximate true human empathy.

If and when all that might be possible, I am convinced there will be a strong underlying resistance from customers. A form of resistance captured in the concept of an  “uncanny valley.” In a nutshell, the “valley” refers to a decline in perceptions of machines and other animated objects as those devices take on “uncanny” resemblances to humans. In essence, the more machines resemble humans the less acceptable those machines become to us. Whether it is fear of replacement or our need to interact with service providers like ourselves, human-like machines are “creepy” and “disturbing” for most of us.

While we wait to see whether Mark Zuckerberg is correct, I recommend we merge the best human and technology solutions together in order to produce easy, seamless, consistent, humane, and emotionally engaging experiences for those we serve! BTW this blog was created, at least for now, by a real human being!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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