Is AI ruining the customer experience?

I’ve been seething for days. It’s made writing this post incredibly difficult as I’ve had to sift through the countless curse words to settle on the most accurate to convey my current state of mind.

I’m pissed. 😠

That’ll do!

Pissed, mostly because a few days ago I stumbled across the claim that “70% of customer support agents believe AI will free them to focus on higher-value work”.

Cue insta-rage at the suggestion that customer interaction could in anyway be considered lesser-value. 🤬

The big failing here was that I made the mistake of believing a headline conveyed facts. The reality is, they rarely do. And this was no exception.

I know right? In an age of such rigorous journalistic standards, I’m sure you’re as shocked as I was to find that on closer inspection the title proved to be intensely misleading. 🤦‍♂️

Any reasonable person would have left it there.

No doubt, a healthy response would be to see it as yet another clickbait headline and move along. No harm no foul. Take the whole thing with a pinch of salt.

But I’ve never been described as reasonable. My responses are rarely “healthy”, and thanks to a consistent craving for carby snacks my sodium allowance is maxed out.

So, I’m still pissed! #SorryNotSorry 🤷🏻‍♂️

Rather than letting the revelation of clickbait garbage alleviate my annoyance, it served only to increase my already heightened irritation.

Please understand, it’s not because I wanted the stat to be true, but because it so easily could have been true.

We live in a world where we’ve become so mind-numbingly lazy we let AI take our calls, schedule our appointments, and manage many facets of our daily lives.

There are already millions using chatbots to “deflect” customer interaction. It’s not a stretch to assume interactions—i.e. actually talking to people—could be considered a “lesser-value task”.

After all, there’s no clear fiscal ROI here. No “X many conversations led to X% growth”.

Maybe what pisses me off most is that I really believe that.

Ignorance Dressed as Proactivity

As I begin my journey building a team of educators in the HelpDocs team, I’ve developed a better understanding of the support landscape than I have ever had before.

In fact it’s fair to say I’ve become mildly obsessive about support and experience. 🤓

The more I learn, the more I want to know about traditional best practices, and how to deliver exceptional experiences. And the more I realise they really don’t fit with the HelpDocs way of doing things.

You see, it turns out support is a super murky wasteland.

Some people do it exceptionally well. More often than not they’re the ones flying under the radar. Because let’s face it, nobody praises the people doing things right. A sad but true indictment of the negative driving forces of society. 😔

Others fall into the category of “no so great”. These are the CS agents that lose their shit, or Airlines with antiquated baggage policies. And these are the ones you hear about, because we love to make our crappy experiences public.

As I feel my way through its dense scrub, I’m struggling to find any semblance of a best practice that feels like it would fit with the HelpDocs culture.

Is the way we do things so different to everyone else? When I read that a majority don’t value customer interactions is disheartening, it certainly felt that way. 😔

Of course, I can’t be too harsh on the concept of ticket deflection. After all our software is built on the premise that customers can be educated to self-serve.

So my bug bear here isn’t deflection.

It’s the way tickets are deflected.

The pure ignorance toward the customer’s needs dressed up as productivity, or a “streamlined customer experience”.

The thing is, it’s not streamlining. It’s ignorance.

Ignorance of the customer’s struggles. And ignorance of the whole customer experience.

When a customer shows a contact intention—clicking a “contact us” button—they want a contact experience.

They’re looking for a touch point with the company.

They want to find someone, anyone who can help them figure out what the hell is going on.

To me, that’s high value. An opportunity to get a better understanding of a customer.

It doesn’t matter whether the customer is reporting a bug, or wants to know a little more about pricing. It’s an opportunity for my team to better understand them, while showing we care and helping them be successful customers.

How do we Quantify Value?

I guess the major thing here is what we consider valuable.

For us, it’s not financial. It has sweet FA to do with growth, or revenue.

Yes, you might see me post an excited tweet about hitting 330% on our goal for March, or growing over 50% in Q1 of 2019.

But that’s just excitement, nothing more. At a stretch, I guess it could be an indication that what we’re doing works. And what we’re doing is not worrying about it.

I think the key between us and many of our peers is that we don’t answer to investors. We answer to our CEO and CTO. And it’s their nonchalance when it comes to the financial aspect that influences the company.

We’re bootstrapped and incredibly profitable. So, we’re free to care about anything other than money!

This means what we value is interaction and happiness. A general sense of how things are going based on how customers feel about the software.

For that, we need to speak to customers. And that fills me with joy! 😌

Human to Human Will Always Win

What I’ve come to learn is that traditional support and the customer experience is being misdirected by the overuse of AI.

This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction.

I’m not resistant to change. Change can be great, when it’s the right kind of change. Replacing all human touch points with automated ones isn’t the right kind of change.

I stand firm in the belief that all human-to-human interactions should be seized, whenever they arise.

With that in mind, it’s become clear to me that traditional support is veering far from what we aim to deliver as a team, and as a company.

While my core team is likely to be made up of people with a CS heavy background, our focus is on the long term success. We are focused on educating users for longer term happiness.

As I build out the team, I hope we can continue to deliver a culture-laced HelpDocs experience with every interaction—complete with the unicorns and sparkles our users have come to know and love.

But when I hear claims that an overwhelming majority see little value in even speaking to customers, I become a little anxious.