According to a recent study by Gartner, the year 2020 will see customers manage 85% of their relationships without interacting with another human being. This week, then, my thoughts have turned to the rising automation of brand interaction. We’ve all seen the live chats that pop up on company websites, saying: ‘Hi, I’m James. How can I help you today?’
Guess what? James isn’t real. It’s an automated call and response. While often this may be frustrating, it is the future of customer experience. When booking appointments for you, Duplex, a soon to be globally released feature in Google Assistant, will imitate filler words and phrases - couching language in everyday conversation. Nevertheless, though this trend of manufactured empathy is on the rise, it’s not a new one.
We’ve all walked into a Pendolino toilet to be warned by an unseen voice not to flush our ex’s sweater, goldfish or dreams down the pan. Innocent is another brand that has been using this overly familiar, anthropomorphic approach for years. The irreverent scrawling and apparent concern on the smoothie carton for you, the customer buying it, is amusing in a novel way. The main difference now, though, is rather than using automation simply as a brand’s signature aesthetic (in the form of human mimicry), companies are now using it in tangible ways to lower cost and increase profit.
As I see it, this step is one of progress. Ocado’s model is revelatory as a fantastic case study in the fmcg space. First it removed the necessity of entering a physical store, then its app removed the necessity of owning a computer. Its warehouses are staffed by robots, and the reduction in cost, increase in efficiency and explosion of revenue speaks for itself.
Considering my area of sales and recruitment, automation surely has its place. Nearly two thirds of a sales rep’s typical day is taken up by non-selling tasks. Streamlining this by mechanising administrative tasks requires no deliberation.
The unstoppable rise of automation may at first seem otherworldly, the beginning of a dystopian film in which not only business but society itself begins to unravel. There’s a reason why that’s fiction, though. Business automation is changing global enterprise for the better, and what’s more it’s here to stay.