Who is likely to give you the best customer service, a human or a robot?  While the answer may seem obvious (hint: the human!), automated services are hard to beat for routine types of services, and they are getting better!  These automated procedures are the backbone for customer engagement throughout the customer journey and increasingly include communication and promotion activity.  While the fast error-free service that an automated system delivers is important, by itself it rarely delivers that extra dimension that human service can deliver in creating a memorable and highly recommendable encounter.  What could learn from what makes human engagement more interesting and apply it to the contact points along the customer journey and our customer marketing?

The answer lies with a 13 year-old-boy Ukrainian called Eugene Goostman who learnt English as a second language.  What makes Eugene Goostman interesting is that he was the first of his kind the pass the Turing Test at the Royal Society of the UK in 2014.  By ‘kind’ I mean Eugene is a computer program designed to simulate being human.  In passing the test Eugen, or more correctly his programmers Vladimir Veselov and Eugene Demchenko, gave us insights into how we can imbue a more human feel to the customer experience.

Named after Alan Turing the mathematician who was recently portrayed in the movie Imitation Game and who first proposed it, the Turing Test is a test that looks at a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour that is indistinguishable from a human.  To test a machines ability to pull the wool over our eyes a panel of judges has a conversation via a keyboard with either a human or a machine and then makes a decision on whether they were speaking with a person or machine.  Deviously simple!

What the program Eugene Goostman did to convince the judges it was human was to not always be predictable.  Predictable enough to give a consistent sense of who he is but unpredictable enough to deliver pleasant surprises.


Habituation is the New Normal

Habituation is one of the main reasons why new service initiatives quickly lose their initial impact.  When we are presented with an unchanging stimulus we quickly treat it as background information that we can ignore.  Our brains are wired to pay attention to what is different and to quickly skim over what we had expected.  The same applies to customer service.  Once we consistently give something to a customer it becomes expected and loses its value.  To keep the focus on what we do, we need to provide an element of surprise.


How to Make Your Customer Engagement More Human

How can you give your customer engagement a more human element of surprise while still managing customer flow?  Listed below are five ways we have seen businesses use the element to make their customer service more distinctive, more memorable, and more customer-centric.


Know your Customer Journey

Start with knowing your customer journey.  Both the overall journey and the sub-journeys your customers go through.  By mapping out the points of engagement and where you can add value you can create opportunities for surprising and creating an effective memorable experience that defines our brand experience.  For a financial services client, we noticed that a part of the customer journey included birthdays and significant events in the economic calendar like interest rate reviews.  We recommended that our client take advantage of these external parts of the journey by automating a pre-birthday greeting and notifications of significant IR reviews and their implication.  Because these acts of engagement were not continuous, the client did not treat it as spam and because it was relevant, it reinforced the brand relationship.


Know the Moment

Trigger-based marketing promises so much yet it so often comes across as spam.  Deleted without even a second glance.  Among the best use of event triggers for customer engagement was by a UK bank that identified morning coffee transactions and then sent a random group of customers a text message after the bought a coffee to tell them this coffee was the bank as a reward for using their debit card.  The message reinforced the bank’s position of being customer-centric and experience-driven.  Because the payment was small and communicated close to the event and used a text message it was unexpected, seen as bonus gift rather than an expected small monthly bonus that barely factored into their switching decision.  Because the bank did not make it a set feature they could promote it, change what they rewarded and how much, without appearing to withdraw a feature to some customers.  The bonus was kept fresh and predictably unpredictable.


Real People Say ‘Hi’

Mix up the ways that you contact customers and don’t be afraid to say ‘Hi’.  One of my software providers did something that was totally unexpected for someone I only knew by email and online tech support, they called me!  The really odd thing was that it was not about a problem or getting me to buy.  They had noticed I watched a training video and wanted to know what I thought, and if I needed more help with my project.  The call was actually triggered based on my pattern of behaviour that was being monitored by their system logging which articles and videos I was watching.  Although it was completely automated from their side it was unexpected from my side, because it broke the usual pattern of emails.  On one of our projects, we found that for a healthcare client a similar approach was effective.  By breaking up their usual email and text messages with just one call that was made just prior to a major point when customers often choose to leave.  The call was scripted as a friendly call about how well they were doing and was followed up with a short text message.  The result was improved retention.


Beware the Uncanny Valley of Getting Personal

While there are cultural differences, when a stranger gets personal with you it can feel creepy.  In our research customers have made similar comments about the way some business speak to them.  Customers have told us that getting personal does not necessarily mean using emotionally-laden language professing that you know them and what they like.

A quick test on whether your message sounds like it came from an actual person and not a template-driven marketing auto-bot, say it to another person outside your team or to a family member.  Then ask yourself does this sound like what a real person would say?  Moving from the personal first person to speaking to a customer in the third person gives an automated mass-market communication feel.

From our research and experience the best way to get personal is not by telling someone how much your company acknowledges their loyalty as a customer, but to show it with something that reflects that relationship.  While working with Reader’s Digest I learned the power of using someone’s first name an integrating basic buyer history into communication to create a more customer-centric conversation.  Sadly a change in the reader’s Digest system meant many long term customer’s history was reset.  When we sent a person telling them how much we have valued their five years with us, and it was thirty-five they were not impressed.   From their perspective, it was like forgetting how long you had been friends with someone.

As automation becomes even more common in the workplace and customer service it will become increasingly important to find ways to differentiate your service beyond delivering fast and error-free service.  These are now standard in most industries with little benefit from further improvement.  By just inserting staff contact into the customer journey will not necessarily deliver improved outcomes.  The business will need to increasingly focus on how they can use their customer journey to create a distinctive and memorable experience to gain a competitive advantage.  Looking at how you can build surprise into your customer journey will help provide that advantage.