The Human Element

Automation can now run almost everything but it can’t replace human relationships.

Automation can now run almost everything but it can’t replace human relationships.

A few days ago, I got locked out of my MailChimp software system, which is what I use to send newsletters like this one to you. If it wasn’t for the initiative and creativity of a lady called Val (who was not a robot, although in many instances, she could have been), my February newsletter would have been late reaching thousands of subscribers and my 5-year-old son Rolando would not now be smiling at me in a beautiful winter hat bearing the MailChimp trademark! Val not only saved the day by patiently resolving the technical problem but she also made our family’s day by sending Rolando a present for our trouble. Automation may run the MailChimp service but the company’s relationship with its customers needs a human element to make it work.

The same holds true for yet another company - which is technologically driven - and another immaculate customer representative. I have written in the past about and its excellent customer service and one might think that an online trader (it is now a subsidiary of focuses only on the technological side of its business, but not this one! When my wife, Christine, tried to buy shoes from but was unable to complete the transaction because the company does not ship internationally. Normally, that would probably have been the end of the story but thanks to Tracy, a member of the ZCLT (Zappos Customer Loyalty Team), it was actually the start of an even greater sense of appreciation for the human element in online business.

After asking Christine if she had friends or family in the US to whom they could send the shoes – this was not an option – Tracy provided links to Zappos’ competitor websites from where Christine could find the same shoes. Not only that, she e-mailed my wife a few days later to ask if she had been successful. This was a prime example of someone providing the human touch that can make all the difference to so many technology-driven experiences.

Not only can we access our bank accounts online at any time of the day or night but also Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have been around for 50 years now. This fact hasn’t stopped many banks maintaining branches and even opening new ones because they have seen how many customers still prefer to interact with a real person. A similar case – of automation and technological advancement - holds true in the medical profession. Technology now enables patients to obtain a diagnosis of their medical problems online, through software and increasingly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) and yet, according to the New York Times, studies have shown that patients who feel a close, personal bond with their doctors and shared engagement in their care are more likely to follow their prescribed treatments. 

Technology is responsible for the fact that world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars (but couldn’t operate without drivers), the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property of its own (but couldn’t operate without ‘hosts’), the world’s most popular social media company, Facebook, creates no content (Facebook would not be the same if you and I - and another two billion people- did not upload content. It is noteworthy that the social media giant recently decided to “prioritize meaningful social interactions over passive consumption of content”, in a desire to maintain and increase the human aspect of the online experience), and the world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock. Automation can run almost every part of these businesses except one: the human relationship between the service provider and the customer. And for as long as we have this need for interaction with other people, no amount of technology will replace the human element.

A few suggestions that your team can apply to bring the human element into the equation and turn a transaction into an interaction:

  1. Answer the company's (or department's) phone within 3 rings maximum.
  2. For rapport building, make sure you always address the other person by name (and make sure to mention your name too).
  3. Give your customer representatives the freedom to surprise and delight their customers. The Ritz Carlton™ hotel is a great example of this.
  4. Stop having policies and start having philosophies. A policy is to make things easier for your company and stop the customer from demanding. A philosophy is keeping the customer, the customer's needs and loyalty in mind.
  5. Deliver human responses, always. Val nailed it when she specifically talked about Rolando and made both our day a pleasant one.
  6. Sympathize, empathize and apologize if needed. Human beings can do that better than any computer.
  7. Follow up. This is the missing ingredient in most companies formula for success. Tracy's follow up call has gone a long way towards delighting my wife Christine.
  8. Lean in with two ears and one mouth. Aim to understand before responding.
  9. Showing concern, and being genuine about it, is half way toward a successful outcome.
  10. A fast response (forget the 24 hour rule of responding back) will go a long way towards building customer loyalty. My rule is 7 x 7 x 7.


* Could you please name a positive customer service experience with the human touch involved and/or a not so positive experience with no human touch whatsoever included. Would love to hear your stories, feedback and comments. Click here to let me have your version of events!