My week in CX #8

Delays to last week’s customer experience owing to some pressing client work means that I’m casting my mind back to about a fortnight ago… if only I had some memory enhancement to help me… more on that later. It was a week in which tech matters seemed to come to the fore, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) where the future may be arriving, albeit slowly.

When upgrades downgrade the experience

I’m of an age where I can wax nostalgic about all kinds of ancient technology (ah, the days when Digital was a company not a lifestyle) and I found myself fondly remembering the time when Skype was a groundbreaking web app that was incredibly simple to set up and use.

I was helping my wife set up a conference call with two colleagues and, having failed to get Facetime working on her Macbook we had a go at using Skype, which neither of us had used much since its takeover by Microsoft. Logging on again requires a convoluted process of failing to remember Skype passwords, then getting multiple permissions for a Microsoft account. Days later I had to do the same when I used Skype for a call. It may be a one-off to migrate and Skype’s still a useful app (other voice/video apps are available) but I can’t help thinking my customer journey could be simpler.

Your feedback is required, but be quick

I’m mystified by Caffè Nero’s new employee recognition scheme. It’s clear that you need engaged employees to supply great customer service and letting customers recognise great performers seems like part of that plan. I get regular emails from ‘James@CaffeNero’ about their services and tucked away in an email on new food flavours was an opportunity to register for their employee recognition scheme.

The email arrived in the early hours of 31 March and – sorry James – they’re not always top of my list to read, and as I was travelling on that day I didn’t read it until after the deadline had passed. To be honest my local Caffè Nero baristas are pleasant but haven’t done anything particularly exceptional yet, but I’d like to feel I had the opportunity to recognise them when they do. When I click on the link I’m taken to a page that explains the scheme is only limited to 500 lucky holders of a token, which you can give to your star barista.

This Skype/Microsoft level of complexity seems unnecessary to me as surely you want maximum participation from customers, not just the 500 who applied. Happily, the link to the page also requests that you provide feedback anyway.

I feel an email to James coming on.

Is it really you?

Can I help you?

Of course ‘James’ may not be a real person, but he could soon be doing a great job of managing my feedback or any other caffeine-related needs. I was contacted by one Amy Ingram recently to arrange a lunchtime meeting. Amy isn’t a real person, she’s a piece of ‘Artificial intelligence that schedules meetings’ courtesy of x.ai. Naturally I was tempted to see what she could do. The first problem arose with the email she was copied on, the title of which referred to an earlier breakfast meeting, so my lunch was scheduled at 9am. A subsequent email confirmed the location and that a web conference would be provided – a bit superfluous for a face-to-face lunch – however a response from me resulted in a correct time and discarded the web conference. I decided to be extra helpful (it’s what I do) and sent Amy the link to the restaurant that had already been mentioned in the email exchanges. This proved to be too much and the somewhat coy response was

‘ I’m so sorry, but I am unable to respond to your last message. I’m a personal assistant powered by artificial intelligence that schedules meetings via email and I am only able to respond to messages directly related to scheduling.

I’ve passed it along to Paul [meeting originator] so that nothing gets lost.

If this is a message I should take action on, please try rephrasing your request and emailing me again – I’m always learning more about understanding natural language but I sometimes need a little extra help! ‘

This whole process took just over two hours and seven emails from Amy so about par for the course for a human assistant to busy humans and it’s early days so although this application may be a niche one I can see extensions into booking travel and restaurants directly. My lunch partner was trying out the service for the first time so when the meeting takes place I’ll find out whether Amy’s going to be a permanent fixture.

Ghostly presence

And so to Scarlett Johansson – no stranger to impersonating virtual entities   – and Ghost In The Shell, which after a week of tech and AI seemed like a good way to end it. Aside from the ‘whitewashing’ debate about casting Ms Johansson’s as an originally Asian character, it’s quite a good film amongst the kinetic action scenes about what it means to be human in an increasingly digital and automated world.

The opportunities to improve customer experience are something that various sectors are keen to grasp – with banks, not surprisingly, looking to tech to get them out of a customer service hole. Whether Amy or ultimately the likes of Ghost’s Major will be required to do this is something that I’ll be reporting back on in future, unless I can find a bot to do it for me of course.

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