Want to realize the potential of automation? Focus on an empathetic experience


by Nelson Wahrhaftig

There is significant hype in the market about automation and robotization. Terms such as virtual agents, virtual assistants, cognitive agents, robots and chatbots are present in almost all conversations inside and outside the corporate realm. Articles about the potential for automation and humanoid-style robots appear frequently in all forms of media – from specialized professional media across multiple industries to popular media, and even in TV and radio adverts.

They promise a wealth of productivity and user satisfaction, but the reality of virtual and robotic technology is not as simple or smooth as it’s made out to be.

The other day I entered one company website to search for a product. Immediately, a chatbot intervened and asked me if I would like to chat with a representative, to which I answered yes. But the experience that followed was poor. A full screen came up, requiring me to fill in a form, including several mandatory fields, and agree to the company privacy policy. No dialogue. Just a form. I stepped out. It would be impossible to describe this as a good user experience, so clearly the promise of enabling productivity through chatbot support failed in this instance.

On another occasion, I was interacting with a utilities company’s customer service through a chatbot and asked for general information about a specific service. Instead of getting the information, I was presented with a menu with three options to select from, none of them related to the question, not even to any of the keywords typed. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I stepped out.

My experience is echoed in the stories from many others – patients, passengers, consumers, cardholders, pensioners – about the time they spend chatting (either via text or voice) with a bot, struggling to make their problems understood, but without success. It seems rather than bots being deployed to help people, individuals are expected to adapt to the way a bot “thinks” when they pose questions and interact with automated technologies deployed by many companies. Are you scared?

I’ve presented the bad and the ugly of some bot experiences, but it’s not always that daunting. Many good experiences are had, and efficiencies generated with productive dialogues and meaningful information exchange between the robot and the user. These good bot experiences mean the customer gets the results they want and the company involved has a happy and loyal customer.

Many success stories, productivity gains, cost reductions and even some virtual agents have become familiar to the public. But even that isn’t enough.

The real test of customer satisfaction lies in the ability to build a more empathetic, human experience – one in which a positive bond is created between the customer and the robot. If companies are able to create bots capable of natural and fluid interaction, that will likely result in customer loyalty and even lead users to promote that service to others. And that means at a higher net promoter score.

By empathetic experience, I’m not just talking about friendly design and efficiency. Rather, the whole communication is important – clarity of language in either text or voice and the use of phrases and terminology that will appear natural to the user, including terms that the user would normally use or expect to hear. This needs to be built and delivered via an integrated communication strategy. Both text and voice conversations need to be calibrated. The voice, the way the bot speaks, the language, the way it writes – everything must have uniformity to convey credibility during the dialogue. Being polite in excess does not necessarily help to create empathy. We have to make sure that the user’s objective with respect to that interaction is achieved. Communicate in a concise and relevant way, and never forget a basic rule: do not make the user feel stupid!

So, does that mean the bots will be programmed and trained to mimic people? Will there come a point where you won’t know whether you are talking to a robot or to a person? Are you scared again?

The impact is not only around direct customer service. All types of user interactions are transformed. The front line is transformed through virtual agents, the back end is transformed through robotic process automation. Even the back-office empathy is important since bots will work together with people in a hybrid workforce environment.

The technology is powerful and flexible. It’s been shown that 56 percent of millennials will switch companies if customer service is underwhelming; chatbots, on the other hand, can offer a rapid response, 24/7, have quick access to data, and improve customer satisfaction.

Ultimately, rather than scared, we should be happy to have such automation and artificial intelligence resources to use as part of our professional and personal life. Let’s use it to the fullest potential.

Nelson Wahrhaftig leads BPS Solutions and Commercial Functions in DXC Brazil. He has over 30 years of IT and BPO experience having worked in different positions including CIO, managing consultant and account executive. Nelson graduated in Industrial Engineering at the São Paulo University Polytechnic School.


  1. Michael says:

    Interesting article Nelson, I like the idea of back-office empathy… it is key to engage organization and use full potential of technologies

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