In just a few years could we say goodbye to customer service representatives?
Tony Fadell was the man behind the first 18 generations of Apple’s iconic iPod. He also led the iPhone project for three more generations. But then he decided to leave to go and create a thermostat, a thermostat that was then bought by Google for an obscene amount of money – all because Fadell, and his company Nest, had an idea bigger than just selling a product.
The same can be said of another Google purchase, Deep Mind – a company that is still yet to release any sort of tangible product. Deep Mind is in the business of building artificial intelligence to make automation processes simpler and to improve lives in the process. It’s been hard at work for years, but even though it’s made slow – yet impressive – progress, Google are clearly taking bets on what the future will hold. And Google isn’t in the search engine business, it’s in the information business. It’s a company that’s spent its life on improving the share of information and how humans interact and share this knowledge. So, it’s unsurprising to hear that they’re one of the many tech companies at the forefront of the Internet of Things.
But what does this mean for consumer interaction and how customer experience will change in the future?
Already we can see how mobile technology has disrupted traditional experiential channels with brands. Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD tablet lets users call up an Amazon representative for help wherever and whenever at just the press of a button. There are already kitchen appliances that take the need for customer/brand interaction out of the equation by ordering repairs to be taken out on themselves when a problem occurs. Heck, Oral B even has a bluetooth toothbrush that pairs with your phone to have a dentist give you oral care advice while you brush. Excessive? Perhaps. But it’s also one of the beauties of what the future could hold for customer service and brand contact with customers too.
Wearable technology can also be a major disruptor to certain professions – most notably those in healthcare. While the Fitbits, Jawbones, and now Apple Watches can track a whole host of metrics about our heart rate and exercise, it’s products like Scanadu that’ll change consumer interaction with the medical industry. Scanadu is a pebble sized device that can take your temperature, your blood pressure, heart rate, oximetry, ECG, HRV, stress levels, and urine analysis, it’s designed to essentially diagnose you before connecting you to a remote doctor to provide a prescription and advice. Think of it as the science fiction found in Star Trek‘s medical scanners, except it’s true and a whole lot smaller.
“There are a lot of tasks where humans just aren’t necessary at all,” exclaimed Wired UK editor David Rowan in response to an audience member question at Europe’s Customer Festival about IoT devices replacing human jobs in the customer experience chain. “Just thirty years ago you wouldn’t dream of getting your money from a machine. There are teaching applications and language learning tools out there as good as a real teacher for distance learner, and why pay a consultant for some tasks when you can jump online and find a list of the key contacts you need for a certain industry sector?”
And he’s got a point. On top of the examples already given, there are sensors in almost everything, collecting data about almost everything. You can find basketballs, dog collars, sex toys, chopping boards, etc. tracking and giving performance tips or location tracking. You can have sensors in the road to help with traffic management – which could soon be handled almost entirely by a computer too. There are already self-driving cars in existence, that are also safer drivers than real drivers.
Technology is diminishing the need for customer support and interaction to really exist. Call centres are already avoided by many who don’t fancy dealing with mazes of switchboard numbers, and so online chat has taken over – what’s to stop that online chat being against a computer?
The Spike Jonze film HER may have been a work of science fiction, but it’s not too far off into the future that we’ll see computers that can understand our emotions and react accordingly. The human element to customer service will all but disappear as devices fill the role of low-level tasks, and more advance computers replace what would have previously been telephone or online customer service channels.
Of course, this is a little while off, and probably something more fitting of your children’s generation than your own.
As Rowan summed up during his talk, “I don’t go to the self-service checkouts at supermarkets, I prefer meeting and dealing with people instead.” But, if he was forced to make a decision about what would win out: human interaction or computers, “I’m betting on the machine.”