A few weeks ago, Google presented a demo of a new AI system called Duplex. Duplex is an extension of Google Assistant that has the ability to communicate eerily like a human being. Listening to the recordings, there were times I wasn’t quite sure which speaker was human and which was a computer.
Of course, robotic phone interactions are nothing new. We’ve all had to listen to a robot read off a list of extensions to reach the department we’re looking for, and we’ve seen chatbots become more prevalent for customer interactions over the past couple of years.
But Google Duplex is different. It’s probably still years away from being ready for mass use, but to a lot of people, its development signals the end of interpersonal communication as we know it. Companies will adopt robots to replace call centers, while customers will use Duplex to make appointments and resolve issues. Pretty soon, it’ll just be robots talking to robots, and people will never interact with each other again…right?
I’m not so convinced. Audiences seek out genuine experiences with the brands they trust and reward them with their loyalty and advocacy. From their first interactions with a company via its thought leadership content all the way through the remainder of the marketing process to sales, customer service, and everywhere in between, people want authentic interactions.
Google has labored to create this robot that sounds exactly like a human being precisely because nobody wants to have a conversation with a robot. This tool (and others like it) suggest what people really want: authenticity.
While I understand the concern of those who say Duplex and other AI-powered tools like it will eliminate the need for human interaction — and certainly agree that misuse of this technology could be dangerous — I still see Duplex as proof of the value consumers everywhere place on authenticity.
Technology enables us to interact with customers more efficiently, but that doesn’t mean those interactions can’t also be authentic. Here are four ways companies can use technology while still remaining human:
1. Personalize your tech.
As humans, we’re a little obsessed with ourselves. We love it when others remember our names or details about our lives that we’ve shared with them. And we extend that positive feeling to brands when they do the same. Nearly 90 percent of consumers have said that personally relevant content makes them view a brand more favorably, and 78 percent said it makes them more likely to buy something.
Thankfully, technology can allow you to create those personal touches while still automating contact with customers. There are plenty of customer relationship management tools and even chatbots that help brands communicate with audience members in ways that feel deeply personal but don’t drain all your time and resources. If you want to take advantage of the efficiency tech has to offer while remaining authentic, then your first step is to get personal.
2. Make good first impressions.
I’m sure you’ve heard that it takes just seven seconds to make a first impression, but did you know that first impressions remain engrained in people’s minds for months? This is true of interpersonal relationships, and it’s also true of interactions between your company and its customers.
If a customer contacts your company for help with a problem, only to be greeted and assisted by a robotic voice or an automatic email, you won’t be making a good first impression. He may be hesitant to reach out for further assistance, or he might even be slow to trust the human employees who eventually do come to his aid.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid technology for fear of turning off customers. It simply means that real interactions should take priority, especially for newer customers who are still getting to know you.
It might be wise to assign your customers human points of contact and introduce them to automated service options as you build trust with them. This ensures your customers have a positive first impression of both your company and the automated service. When a trusted person recommends using an automated service, customers will be more inclined to use and be patient with the technology, and that’s a win for everyone.
3. Be transparent when robots are involved.
This may not be a huge issue right now, but Google Duplex certainly signals that it will be in the future: If you’re going to use technology like this, you need to let the people interacting with it know that it’s not a real person.
As I said earlier, when I listened to Duplex book a haircut, it honestly was difficult to tell at times which voice belonged to the robot, and I guarantee the person on the other end of the line had no clue to whom (or what) she was speaking. In a few years, these conversations will be the norm. You and I will converse with robots without even realizing it.
Utilizing this AI technology may save businesses a lot of money, but the truth is that people don’t trust robots as much as or in the same way that they do other human beings. And if that’s the case, people won’t trust companies that blur the lines between robots and human beings.
4. Don’t overdo it.
A few weeks ago, I was expecting a package that never arrived at my home. The tracking number indicated the package was delivered, but I never saw it, so I called the shipper to see whether I could get more information. The robot on the line repeated what I already knew and directed me to check the website (where I had just been) for more information. I was never given the option to speak to a real person, and I ended up in a loop with no clear help in sight.
Thankfully, a neighbor had been holding my package and brought it by later that day, but the experience left a sour taste in my mouth. Nothing is more frustrating than a company forcing its customers to use technology when they don’t want to and when it doesn’t create more value in the customer relationship. The last key to authenticity when using technology in your business? Don’t overdo it. Don’t feel as though you must use a technology simply because it exists. Use it when it benefits your business and benefits your customers.
We are seeing new and exciting technological advances every day. Many of these will be brought into the business world, but it’s important that companies never allow technologies to diminish their ability to be authentic and transparent with their customers. These four tips will ensure that business leaders can maintain authenticity while embracing technologies that will push their businesses forward.