Human interaction in an AI first world; the role of HR in customer engagement


 Human interaction in an AI first world; the role of HR in customer engagement

Steven Van Belleghem, Co-Founder and
Board Member, Snackbytes

Someone recently asked me whether I felt employer branding and HR was important in customer experience. My answer to that is a definite yes. In fact, if you want to excel in customer service, it’s one of the most important things you need to consider. The key to successful customer service in today’s technology-driven world lies in three pillars: the right processes, the right measurements to ensure you’re continuously improving your systems and the right culture. I believe that the last of these is the most important, and because HR and branding is all about culture, that’s where the role of this department comes to the fore.

Human interaction in an AI first world

The role of the HR department in a company is often underestimated and reduced to an operational function. But for your company to offer an excellent experience to your customers, HR has to have a leading part. Let me explain why.
HR is key for the context and mindset of a company, ensuring the right culture is created. The department is responsible for recruiting people who are a good match for these values, and for keeping these employees happy. Happy employees in turn equal happy customers. You can therefore see the crucial part that HR has to play in the customer experience.
We’re currently seeing the world undergo a digital transformation, which is leading to an ‘artificial intelligence first’ mindset and cognitive evolution. Many employees are worried that they’ll be replaced by computers – and some of them do have cause to worry, such as drivers. AI is definitely going to change the workflow of certain businesses as we currently know them.
But what’s crucial to remember is that while AI is changing the customer experience model, it’s humans who will continue to make the difference. After a while, in any sector, everyone will have the same technological powers, so it will be the humans in the company who make it stand out -- or not.

When good becomes exceptional

I am a very happy customer of KLM. All of its flights are good, but some are exceptional. In fact, I’d go so far to say when they’re exceptional, they make my day. And what’s the reason? It’s the crew, not the plane. All KLM crew are friendly, but when they’re enthusiastic as well, it elevates the experience. A computer can be friendly, but only humans can be enthusiastic. That’s the key difference.


Another good example of the power of human interaction is when I recently re-visited a business hotel in Amsterdam. As soon as I arrived, a receptionist came forward, greeted me by name and asked if I’d like an orange juice, as that was the drink I’d had on arrival last time. This simple but personal interaction immediately raised the hotel in my estimation. If I go back to Amsterdam, I’ll stay with them again, and even if they make a mistake, such as messing up my room reservation, I’m much more likely to accept it and continue to stay with them, because they made me feel so good. In that one interaction, they guaranteed my loyalty.
AI will continue to enhance the customer service experience, but what you’ll never be able to replace the real emotional connection that a human can bring to an interaction. A human adds a vital element, elevating it to a more pleasant experience that lingers long in the mind of the customer.
The consequence of the digital transformation is therefore also leading to a human transformation. Humans’ roles will change from more operational to more emotional. Finding employees who demonstrate empathy, creativity and passion in their roles will be vital, and the responsibility for this lies with the HR department.
Some companies are getting this balance wrong, and focussing so much on technology that they’re decreasing their human power. This is in fact replacing a strength with a weakness, and I’m afraid of this evolution. It lowers the culture and customer feeling, and once gone, it’s going to be hard to bring it back up. An HR department needs to lead in investment in the human element to keep a business on track.

Achieving the right balance

This balance is more important than ever before because as a consequence of the technology-driven world we now live in, customer loyalty is no longer guaranteed. If consumers don’t like what you’re offering, they don’t have to look very far to find a product that better meets their needs. In order to retain customers, you need to provide them not only with a product that matches their expectations and comes with a price, quality and convenience they want, but that also appeals to them emotionally.
The human part of customer experience is therefore the key differentiator. The AI part is easy, as you’ll be able to buy it in, but getting the human part right is going to be the hardest challenge, and the thing that will make or break your company. Use the efficiency that comes with a digital element along with human emotions, and you’ll create a business that stands out in the minds of your customers -- for all the right reasons. And once you acknowledge the vital part that humans have to play in the customer service experience, that will reinforce the role of HR in your company and keep the culture game at a high level.

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