Fast food outlets, self-service cashiers, automated teller machines… In less than a decade, we have gotten used to technology replacing humans in service. Will technology take over completely one day? A quick Google search would show that many believe it is unlikely in the near future. Given the speed of its advancement, this may be a more pressing question - How much of technology should we integrate into human-centric services? Here we draw lessons from three current case studies, and how they can inform us about the balancing act of manpower and technology in businesses.
In the past year, China has become the cashless future of the world. Simply put, physical cash has become obsolete as the country plugs into a virtual economy that transacts through QR codes. In the future, they may be replaced by facial scans. Without a smartphone and a Chinese online payment service (Alipay or WeChat), you will find yourself hard pressed to hail a cab, or even pay for food on the streets.
Although this has caused difficulties for foreigners navigating China, locals have begun to enjoy this new normal of convenience. Wallets, credit cards, loose change and fake bills are increasingly disappearing from the daily lives of the Chinese. Buying and spending is so easy it is a boost on the business revenues and the economy. In China’s case, the use of technology has eliminated the costs of logistics and money handling. While it does not displace waiters and shopkeepers entirely, it has made their job easier. With this system in place, costs can be lowered and customer contentment can be improved. The empowerment gained by the Chinese is how we should view and embrace technology in our lives and our businesses.
Customer service is the crux of the hospitality industry. Yet, hotels have joined the artificial intelligence rush by incorporating the Internet of Things and robots. Hotel chains Hilton and Mariott have announced plans to launch smart hotel rooms that claim to be comprehensively interactive. Meanwhile, robots have been serving as porters, concierges and housekeepers in the hotels of Japan, Korea, Singapore and America.
The hassle-free of a simplified workflow in hotels may become a permanent preference in the future. Imagine all the time saved from hotel check-ins and billings! However, luxury hotels are aware that personalized guest experiences are irreplaceable. Empathy and emotional responses cannot be replicated by robot, no matter how advance they get. Biltmore Hotel’s CEO believes that automation can complement the human touch. With automation taking care of mundane and repetitive tasks, this trend can motivate us to pursue service excellence, and what it really means to provide exceptional service.
Chatbots are a rising trend in businesses, and the financial industry has been quick to adapt them for customer care. In India, chatbots have filled in as insurance agents, achieving sales and providing assistance. In Hong Kong, several banks are also set to roll out AI chatbots to take over customer services. Many have cited a long list of pros of employing these virtual assistants – they are available 24 hours 7 days a week, they are able to communicate in different languages, and they are immune to human biases. With these benefits, chatbots seem to be the perfect alternative to customer call centres and helpdesks.
Nonetheless, chatbots are not capable of building customer relationships, which are crucial in the financial sector. They are not equipped to process elements in natural language, such as tone. Chatbot failures can also damage customer relations instead, if it is unable to solve or direct the problem quickly. Thus, chatbots should be implemented as an additional channel, but it must not be the only communication avenue. Ultimately, there needs to be active human input in the management of chatbots to ensure customer satisfaction.
The advancement of technology is not something that we can shy away from. It is nonetheless important to make wise and informed decisions when we embrace them. With technology’s help, it should allow us to improve services and customer relations to maximize our business’s potential.