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Can technology revive the art of communication?

Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-founder, Natterbox, discusses why Tech could bring back ‘real’ communication

It’s undeniable that technology has revolutionised the way we communicate – from WhatsApp, to chatbots, nobody really picks up the phone to call someone anymore. There are two exceptions to this, our mums and customer service agents. Whilst regular calls from our mums will always be an unavoidable fact of life, there are many of us who tend to turn to chatbots to communicate with brands when the option is available, since phone experiences can often be frustrating.

The problem is, whether communicating with a family member or speaking to a company, bots simply cannot build the same levels of rapport as is possible with another human being. What’s more, although they may on occasion be able to answer a query more quickly than a human customer service agent, they won’t always be able to offer all of the answers – especially at this early stage in their development. As such, whilst artificial intelligence (AI) technology significantly enhances the customer experience, it can by no means replace the human touch. So how can technology be used to revive the lost art of human-to-human conversation?

Is the Fourth Industrial Revolution really a better world to live in?

Recently I saw an article about an elderly woman who was struggling with the customer experience offered by her bank and I couldn’t help but relate to the letter she wrote. She spoke of how she is now expected to deal with a “faceless entity” when she phones the bank for help and is then forced to press multiple numbers before she can even get close to finding the solution or answer than she needs. Tongue in cheek, she wrote about her experience to demonstrate the absurdity of it.

Whilst able to put a smile on our faces, the unfortunate fact is that the letter was funny because it is relatable – being put on hold and forced to talk to a machine happens everywhere, all over the world.

Indeed, a recent study conducted by Sussex Innovation Centre showed that 95% of customers felt it can take too long to get through to the right person on the phone, with 31% of callers stating they would hang up within one minute of waiting on hold. Additionally, it revealed that 63% would consider switching providers after a single instance of poor customer service. So, despite this sort of customer service becoming a frequent and even daily occurrence for most, it appears consumers still haven’t become accustomed to it and refuse to stand for it. Customer service really does make a difference to our perception of a company, and if it’s poor, it’s likely to negatively affect how customers interact with a brand.

A rise in Phone Anxiety

With such poor customer service on the rise, it’s no wonder that Phone Anxiety has become a recognised phenomenon in recent years and now presents a real problem for many people, young and old, especially as millennials today would rather send a quick text than make a call.

Healthcare specialists explain that the phone is devoid of a lot of (nonverbal) methods of communication that encourage people to move forward and feel safe. How can we communicate with someone and “feel safe” if we’re not speaking to a human being who wants to interact with us? And if we do finally get to speak to someone, how long does it take (and how many numbers do we have to press) before we get to the person we need? According to the study results, 54% of callers would prefer to be greeted personally when calling in – a small change that could have a huge impact for end users.

Whilst the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to offer exponential improvements to the way we live, work and relate to one another, it seems that the implementation of smart technologies may well be the death of a form of communication that has been so prevalent for humankind since 1876. But should this be the case?

Treating technology (and customers) with care

How can technology be best implemented to augment human communication, rather than impede it?

There is no simple answer, but we can certainly make it easier on ourselves to communicate. My suggestion would be to use the new and emerging technology around us with caution and for the right reasons. For instance, you can reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the power of technology in the workplace by implementing solutions that can assist customers with a personal touch. Knowing who they are and how they can best be helped will make a significant difference in how they view a brand, helping them build a positive and lasting relationship.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is set to disrupt almost every industry in every country and create massive change in a non-linear way, at unprecedented speed – but it is essential that we use it to improve and innovate the beautiful art of conversation.

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