Man vs. Robot: The Battle of Customer Service Turning Digital


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Right now, the demographic that holds the most buying power is the millennial generation. These young buyers are obsessed with things like the sharing economy and green practices. One of the concepts millennials seem to embrace is that of self-service customer service. This leads to the great debate of who will win in the end: man or robot?

A Life of Ease Through Automation

In some ways, it seems like customer service is turning more robotic than anything else. When dialing customer service phone numbers, it’s extremely rare to have a human being answer the phone rather than an automated system. You can often handle all of your transactions and get your questions answered without ever being put on hold or speaking with a representative.

Oftentimes, you don’t even need to make a phone call. Once upon a time, you had to call airlines in order to make a reservation for a flight, but now you can do it online or through an app on your phone. Self-service machines are making it much easier to accomplish simple tasks.

This makes things much easier on businesses as well. Overhead costs are dramatically reduced when they’re able to rely on a machine to handle mundane work.

Humans Are Still Essential

However, this doesn’t mean that human beings are totally out of the picture. In fact, some would argue that humans are even more important than ever. One of the first rules of technology is, “If something can go wrong, it will.” When you run into a problem, there must be a backup plan, and your customers will want a human to take care of things.

For example, some customer service inquiries can’t be handled through automation. When a customer wants to lodge a complaint or feel reassured about a certain question, they don’t feel gratified unless they talk to someone who can answer back. Approximately 86 percent of consumers say they need to hear a satisfactory answer for their question in order for it to be a good experience. Robots simply can’t provide that.

Most of the time, customers like to see evidence of both self-service and human interactions. For example, self-service storage is a rising industry, because of both machine and human interactions. Consumers love the ability to both reserve and handle their storage without any help, but they like it when there’s someone watching the storage units and able to offer help if needed.

As you can see on this landing page from one of the nation’s leaders in self-service storage, US Storage Centers, the ability to reserve a storage unit without any help is clearly available. However, there are also plenty of ways to contact a human representative, including a phone number, business address, and live chat function. Even though automation is a clear theme here, customers know they’re not left to fend for themselves.

All in all, the robot side of customer service is extremely useful, but it’s only useful until something goes wrong. When that happens, customers demand the help of a human being. Any company that tries to do away with human customer service representatives entirely will lose business as a result.

Humans Still Have Plenty of Jobs

A major concern in the robot vs. human debate is that automation is taking over human jobs, and pretty soon, the job market will plummet. But that hasn’t happened yet. If anything, it’s created better jobs. Although most companies need fewer customer service representatives, they often need more people who can solve the problems of technology-gone-wrong. These jobs pay better and are often more comfortable than phone jobs.

In addition, this age of automation has led many businesses to recognize the power of humanization in their customer service experiences. When automation and online experiences first became popular, businesses were struggling to create strong relationships with their customers. It’s difficult to engage on a personal level with empathy, relevance, and kindness when your entire operation is being run by machines.

There will always be people worried about robots taking over the world, but there’s no need to be concerned here. There’s more need for humans in customer service than ever before, and savvy businesses are making a strong effort to humanize every customer experience as much as possible.

Larry Alton
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


  1. Nice write up.

    It may be partially true that robots are not fully taking over human’s jobs but that fear for sure has put the human on their toes to be more engaged and skilled than ever before. Some roles can simply be copied by robots the only difference or impact human can make is through superior offering.


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