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Portal Focus - May/June 2021


Technology Cannot Replace Human Touch, but Properly Implemented, It Can Enhance It

By Ray daSilva, IAM Mobility Exchange

Best Practices (and Pitfalls) in Tech Adoption

Anyone who has attended one of my speaking engagements or perhaps read one of my articles knows that I am an enthusiastic and unapologetic proponent of leveraging technology to improve service and efficiency in our industry. We are a business that relies on close cooperation and communication between disparate service partners who come together in ad hoc relationships to serve our mutual customers. While technology can help us to connect, most companies in our industry are small- to medium-sized enterprises that cannot always afford to research, invest in and implement new technology. When we do, we do not always get it right.

Since this edition of the Portal focuses on technology, I thought it would be an opportune time to remind ourselves that we are in a high-touch, personal business. Our operations teams ultimately spend the most time with our customers in a very intimate and close setting while we pack or deliver their most prized household goods and personal effects. Our best move managers and moving consultants develop trusted personal relationships with our customers based on human contact. Technology will not replace the value of human touch, but if implemented correctly, it can enhance it.

When technology goes wrong

As part of our IAM Move Coordinator Training Program, we teach the basics of business communication. In one exercise, we sample several anonymized calls to real moving companies posing as customers. The students are asked to critique the phone handling methods in these real encounters. Most are shocked when they listen to some of the automated phone handling systems which greet the customer mechanically and force them to select 1 for sales, 2 for operations, etc. and then pass them off into a “record your message at the tone” conclusion.

Fortunately, most of the students write in their essay responses to the exercise that their company greets each customer personally even if the initial reception is done by a machine. Some are brave enough to admit that the exercise prompted a review of their automated phone reception.

Automated phone reception systems have been around for many years. We may not think of it that way, but these are rudimentary and perhaps even crude precursors of the Artificially Intelligent Customer Service robots that some are excited about.

Have you met a nice chatbot lately?

Well, I have not. A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate human conversation. With the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the promise was that chatbots could learn the most frequently asked customer service questions and offer humanlike responses. It sounds good in theory. We can standardize professional responses to some questions and free up our staff to engage in more complex queries. I actually think we are making quantum leaps in this technology and chatbots will become more useful, but like the badly-implemented mechanical phone receptionist, a badly-implemented chatbot may serve to frustrate your customer and cause them to shut the door firmly on your business.

When implemented properly, technology can improve human connection

Do you remember life before the pandemic, when some of us railed against online meeting platforms like Zoom and the possibility that replacing in-person contact with online interaction would dehumanize and isolate us? Then the pandemic turned the world upside down and we found that online meetings became indispensable and could actually serve to improve human connectivity.

Now the point of this article may start to become clear. Technology by itself does not solve problems. If technology is poorly researched and poorly implemented, and if we are not properly trained and empowered to use the technology, poor outcomes will result. The best examples of leveraging technology in our industry are those where systems are used as effective tools that enhance—not replace—human connection and interaction.

Points to remember before applying technology solutions

Think about the automated phone receptionist. The poorest examples of implementation are clearly the result of misplaced priorities. When considering automation or a technology solution, how would you rate the priorities in importance?

  1. Reduce cost, increase efficiency

  2. Reduce staff and training expense

  3. Improve access to management information

  4. Increase sales

  5. Improve accuracy

  6. Reduce service failures

  7. Empower staff to be more customer-facing

  8. Improve customer experience

If you are approaching your decision from the top down on this list, you may end up with an automated phone system that achieves the first three points by driving the customer away. Order your priorities carefully and then ask yourself two questions:

  1. Will this system improve my customer’s experience by empowering my staff to be more customer-facing while reducing service failures and improving our accuracy so that our sales will increase?

  2. Will this system provide improved management information and resources to improve staff training which will result in reduced costs and increased efficiency?


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