Is It Easier to Teach Bots To Be Human or Humans To Be Humans?


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She smiled at me softly, showing her big white teeth, and blinked open her dark brown eyes as she handed me the access card to my hotel room. I hated her. I hated her for how she had behaved over the last half an hour I spent arguing with her …

I arrived to Las Vegas just an hour earlier, just before midnight, after spending over 500 miles on the road that day. I was exhausted. The only thing I wanted to experience before I totally crashed out was a hot shower and a fresh bed. That’s why I booked my room hours earlier online and paid in advance to minimize any hassle upon arrival.

Michelle (name changed) working at the front desk was probably very popular (sarcasm). A long queue of arriving guests were lined up at the front desk while she, the only person welcoming guests, was checking in a big family who had arrived before me. When it was my turn, I smiled, greeted her, and handed over my documents.

“Your booking was cancelled.” She initiated the conversation by skipping any pleasantries.
“Hmm, that’s strange, I didn’t get any info about that. What should I do?” I said looking and feeling surprised.

“Your card was rejected, the booking was cancelled.”
“Ok, so what should I do?”

Anxiety and anger began creeping up my spine. With every answer she gave we managed only half a step forward. I gave her all my details relating to the booking, I gave her all my documents, I repeated what was already submitted, confirmed, and which was supposedly sitting plainly on Michelle’s computer screen garnering none of her attention.

30 minutes, 100 questions and 1 shift manager visit later I got my room keys, and at this point, I was utterly drained. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. It wasn’t the first time I had ever met an unhelpful, uninterested customer service person. But that’s not what took my energy. No. I was drained because over the long, frustrating 30 minutes the only thing she gave me were fake emotions. Fake smiles, fake “I truly understand your problem, sir”, fake signals of “I’m doing everything by the book, so what’s wrong with you, customer.”

How do I know she had fake emotions?
Can you also pinpoint the feeling when it happens to you?

Humans have a strange but strong sense for reading non-verbal communication – a subtle glimpse, body language, facial emotions or voice tonality. We, human beings, know when somebody means what they say, or at least when it appears to be so. Sometimes we don’t know why something’s wrong, but we know – we feel – that something most certainly is.

And that’s exactly what happened to me and Michelle.

I’m just wondering… What if there were no Michelles? What if she were to be replaced by a self check-in desk, and her colleagues servicing other parts of the hotel were also be replaced by computers. Wouldn’t life be easier?

Somebody told me recently that teaching a human to be human is harder than teaching a robot to be human. I laughed and argued for the next half an hour that humans are irreplaceable in customer service. (As the CEO of a customer service software company, I discuss strategies of modern customer care every day and I love it.) Even after the Michelle incident, I continue to hold this belief. She may have had a bad day, or felt sick, but no robot can have such problems, right? Perhaps I would have been in bed half an hour earlier if I would have clicked a few times on a self check-in computer instead of interacting with a human.

But then, while still standing at the front desk minutes after midnight with my luggage piled up beside me, something happened. Something changed. She suddenly smiled at me. Michelle apologized for the long wait, unnecessary hassle, and offered a considerable discount as she looked at me in a way no computer can. With empathy. With authenticity.

What happened to her all of a sudden?
What caused the sudden change in her behaviour?
Why did she suddenly look different?

I got it at last.

She was was just having a bad day.

I understood that look – it’s one we all have from time to time. It’s the look that says: I’ve had a really, really long and stressful day, and I’ve just now realized how shitty I’m behaving. It happens to me at least once a week. It happens to my wife, my colleagues, and my friends. You also behave like this sometimes, I am sure.

For reasons unknown, it brought everything full circle. It made me happy and relieved as I stumbled into my hotel room ruminating on why, despite the shortcomings of humans, I will continue to help companies act more human in customer service. Because with all these amazing technological advancements, bots, online check-ins and mobile customer service apps, sometimes we need a smile and the feeling of authentic human connection. Technology is here to help us to make these moments more frequent, don’t you think?

Ending thought: Technology these days has lot of IQ, but it lacks EQ. Emotional Intelligence. I think I just found my next CustomerThink post.

Vit Horky
Vit Horky is the co-founder and CEO of Brand Embassy, social customer service software designed to build human connections at scale. As a passionate entrepreneur, world traveler and lover of emerging technology, Vit believes customer experiences are at the heart of emotional decision-making, and through technology, companies are returning to a world powered by human connections. Between speaking at international conferences and cheering on his team, you'll find him musing about the fascinating world of neuroscience and what drives human motivation.


  1. Human interactions, between service providers and customers, have a lot to do with hiring, training, culture – – and focusing, as well, on the employee experience.. The attitude and behavior you encountered during check-in at the Las Vegas hotel would never have occurred at Southwest Airlines, Trader Joe’s, or a Disney property. Recently, when checking in at a Westin property in Scottsdale, the reservation staffer surprised me by coming out from behind her counter, shaking my hand, and welcoming me to the hotel. That’s what I call an ambassador.

    We will actually be conducting a webinar on this specific subject next month:

  2. Vit, these things happen because
    1. The convenience of the company is more importance than the convenience of the customer
    2. The company can never be wrong, or worse can never admit they are wrong
    3. Michelle was there to make you comfortable not to state you were wrong and the company was right
    etc. etc

    It is a mindset fo the company and a mindset of its people.

  3. It’s a fascinating concept – with bots not creeping into Live Chat amongst other things.

    In theory, they won’t have bad days, but as you pointed out, they don’t have EQ. I wonder if (when) that day will come.

    Over the last 5 years, a huge focus has been on improving process, policy and practice – with a focus on reducing customer effort. I think, though, that this has made the people part of the equation even more important. When we do need human interaction, mediocre just doesn’t cut it any more.

  4. Thank you all for your comments!

    Michael, I’ve been following your articles on CustomerThink. You have many great points about tying employee satisfaction with customer satisfaction. Happy, engaged employees are more likely than their disengaged colleagues to be concerned about “stated and unstated (subconscious and emotional) needs” of customers. Looking forward to your next piece!

    Gautam, point number 1 is the most frustrating and something I believe successful companies of 2020 won’t have the “luxury” of doing. Choice and knowledge are only increasing among customers, and convenience is key.

    Shaun, yes! “When we do need human interaction, mediocre just doesn’t cut it.” Customer service automation seems to be on a pendulum going from one extreme of all manual work to another extreme of all automation. The sweet spot is in finding the right parts of the customer service experience to automate and when to send in the humans!


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