Customer Service Skills That Will Survive the Age of Automation

by
Laurah Mwirichia

The automation of repetitive and difficult manual tasks is a welcome component of modern life, bringing prosperity and freeing up time and labor. However, the introduction of intelligent technology is posing uncomfortable questions in the modern workplace. Across all industries, and particularly in customer service, professionals are starting to wonder: Will we be replaced by clever, cost-efficient machines?

These concerns, of course, have some basis in reality. The Economist recently reported that almost 47% of jobs could be done by machines in the next few decades. Computers are simply better at….well, computing.

But while some jobs are likely to be absorbed by the wave of automation, there are many that will remain firmly in the hands of people. There is little need to be worried about a machine taking your job, if your job primarily involves dealing with other humans.

Despite the excitement (or dread) over the future of work, there is little need for people in fields like customer success or customer support to worry. In fact, machines are likely to make customer facing roles more efficient, and much more enjoyable.

So while the current push in Customer Experience (CX) may be to lean towards increasing digital outlets, maybe we should embrace the chance that our strengths lie in a different area. Our soft skills and lived experience may be what makes us stand out.

If we want to not just compete, but collaborate, in the world of automation we should be asking: what are the most important customer service skills we need to prepare for the jobs of the future?

Creativity

Building customer relationships is not easy. You need to navigate complex combinations of both observable actions and unspoken clues.

While a lot of smart technology is capable of making decisions based on the input it receives, being creative enough to solve new problems as they arise is a whole separate skill. It’s more than just modeling data and making educated guesses. It’s a work of art.

Reading between the lines to understand the “why” behind the “what” takes using your imagination and lived experiences. Understanding and resolving customer issues that aren’t instantly obvious is the value behind human creative problem solving.

A computer can pull up a customer’s name, purchase history, and account number. But customer service professionals can read between the lines to find the human behind the data, and form the needed connections and relationships that build customer loyalty.

Humans are able to draw on a vast well of information from their past and present that can inform every interaction they have. Constant cultural exposure over time from television, movies, and music play a big role in connecting with other people. Our individual upbringings and experiences color every touchpoint of each interaction.

These relationship building components are critical in any customer facing role — and they can’t always be outsourced to an algorithm. Sure, smart AI can learn to answer questions about your product, or provide basic customer assistance. But does it have the ability to go the extra mile to find an imaginative solution or form connections that make your product valuable enough to build customer loyalty?

That’s why more memorable customer experiences are delivered by the people surrounding a product than the technology which enabled it.

Humor

There’s a reason most good jokes don’t start with JavaScript: Humor is an innately human gift that’s (almost) impossible to capture in code.

customer service in the age of AI

Umm….lol…?

In fact, one of the first things babies learn how to do is laugh. Laughing is part of the human personality. It’s in our genes.

While AI is already better than us at computing and analyzing data, people are better at laughing. Humor can make difficult conversations easier to navigate and and acts as an ice-breaker when when you’re an employee trying to introduce yourself to a stranger.

Knowing when to laugh (and when not to) is an essential customer service skill  that helps build trust between agents and customers, while vastly improving customer satisfaction. Humor acts as useful social lubricant in conversations, and is an important part of communication  

Empathy

While humor is great for forming that initial trust, the deepest relationships demand vulnerability and empathy. Relating with others is how we connect.

Fortunately for customer service representatives (and their work), this is another blind spot in the world of automation and intelligent machines.

Like all emotions, empathy can be hard to muster up sometimes. Good customer service skills are hard to maintain after a long day of dealing with an irate customer. This is especially prevalent in a customer service team, which has to constantly strive to maintain a positive attitude.

However, automation can help by taking away a lot of the manual and repetitive work, leaving agents to focus on more human aspects, like better communication skills.

By offloading a lot of the mundane interactions that drain our emotional reserves, we can focus on improving the complex communications that are much more meaningful to both us and our clients.

Conflict Resolution

People are complicated. What’s fair isn’t always right, and even when you’re right, you can be wrong.

The perplexing way that people handle conflict is just as convoluted. Conflict stems from misunderstandings and frustrations that lead to heightened emotions, making problem solving skills vital for any customer service rep.

When a customer contacts support because they are unhappy or irritated about the way a product worked, trying to rationalize with them doesn’t always work.

An upset customer calling in would rather hear “I’m so sorry to hear that, let me see what I can do to help” instead of “An error occurred, your data is lost.” While the latter may be true, it does nothing to help ease the customers anxiety, or let them feel like you’re on their side.

Even the most intelligent machines often lack the emotionally fine-tuned subtleties that enable customer service agents to deescalate people’s emotions and find resolution. Problem-solving skills that can come naturally to a service rep, like patience, positive language, or tapping into their listening skills in order get to the bottom of a problem, can be impossible for a machine.

In the modern world, we have had to deal with a lot of things that we were told would destroy the workplace. From the steam engine to factory automation, remote work hours, social media, and of course– the endless list of things Millennials are killing in the workplace.

However, for customer service professionals, technology is less of a thing to fear, and more to be embraced.

As businesses enter the modern age, it’s becoming more clear that in the age of automation, being human stands out. People want to interact with businesses the way the interact with people. When there is an issue or concern, they want to feel heard and have their opinions and feelings respected. No customer is asking for the intimidating, faceless and automated corporations of years past.

So what does work look like in the age of automation? Our guess: surprisingly…human.

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