Can an automated response be a personal response?

12 May 2015

Dan Hawker

Dan Hawker

Former Head of Tobacco, Wholesale & Retail

Somewhere in Consumer-Land, a customer is in need of help…

I think all of us have had situations where we have been in the middle of a Kafka-esque conversation with a supposed ‘helpdesk’ operative to get something sorted out. Only to go round and round in an absurd circle over a point of detail that is missing the point.

In these situations the script, or automation of process seems to get in the way of what would probably have been a quicker, more helpful, person-to-person conversation. The result? Dissatisfaction, a feeling of precious time lost never to be regained, and ultimately a likely customer about to churn.

The problem with automation

As companies seek for ever-more-difficult-to-find savings to prop up or boost their share price, automation through digital technology will only increase over time – replacing even the scripted response in the example above. Inevitably that will lead to more “choose 1, choose 5, choose 9, press #, enter the long number on your card, hold the line - you’re 95th in the queue…”, and to more “I’m sorry, because we made you hold for soooooooo long, it is now 35 seconds past the deadline and we can’t process your request”, and to more google ads that insist you want to buy a dress from a certain store because your daughter once clicked through from an email on your computer.

Or will it?

Does automation inevitably decrease personalisation?

The amount of “personal touch” an automated process, script or “robot” can have is dependent on the sophistication of the robot, and the amount of information it has about you. The more sophisticated the robot, and the more information it has about you, the closer it can get to the human touch.

With advances in business computing such as SAP HANA, robot brains have taken a leap forward in their capabilities – able to process large sets of data very quickly. But if the system doesn’t have much information about you, then all it can do is get to the point of “Computer says No” very quickly!

If this can be solved, automation does not necessarily have to mean lack of personalisation.

Getting personal with data

There are at least two key factors in getting hold of actionable information about you:

  1. Getting the data
  2. Cleaning and marshalling it into some semblance of usefulness.

Getting the data depends partially on you – have you given permission to organisations to gather information about you? As time goes on, people generally will be more open about most information, although that will come with expectations around security.   

Cleaning and marshalling the data is an interesting area. I hear more and more organisations talking about a “Golden Consumer Record”. The idea being that they are gathering all of their different pieces of the “puzzle of you” which exist in different systems, into one environment to paint a perfect picture of you that they can act on. This is an area which will have a lot of focus in many companies. And because there are “many companies”, there will be lots of “Golden Consumer Records” of you all over the business world, and in theory there only needs to be 1. So will there be a landgrab to own that perfect, realtime vision of you? Or will you own it, and licence different parts of it out? Will it be stored on you, or in you, and transmitted to the different service providers in a standardised way? And what will that mean to the digital divide? Will there be a Golden Consumer Record divide? These are the questions that we and some of our clients are already asking.

The future – are you helping to create the Golden Consumer Record?

It will be interesting to see how the next few decades pan out up to Ray Kurzweil’s postulated singularity. It’s a shame Alan Turing won’t be around to see if his test is passed or not.

However, for the next decade or so at least, the effort to create a “Golden Consumer Record” within your company is one worth investing in, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you like your organisation to be the one that manages to drive forward an agenda of automation, without compromising the personal touch?

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