When luddites complained a decade ago about having to go through automated touchtone phone systems, people laughed. Now that automation is becoming a very real possibility in retail, consumers aren’t laughing anymore.
In fact, according to a new report from Accenture, the lack of human interaction over digital channels may actually be harming retailers instead of making them financially leaner. An overwhelming 83 percent of survey respondents said that they would rather talk or type with a human over the Internet when troubleshooting problems related to customer service, and 52 percent admitted that they took their business from banks, retailers and cable/satellite providers in search of greener and more communicative pastures.
Robert Wollan, senior managing director of advance consumer strategy at Accenture, urged U.S. companies to take the survey findings as a wake-up call before it’s too late.
“Companies have lost sight of the importance of human interaction and often make it too difficult for consumers to get the right level of help and service that they need,” Wollan said in a statement. “Companies wrongly assume that their digital-only customers are their most profitable and that customer service is a cost. Consequently, they overinvest in digital technologies and channels and lose their most profitable customers — multichannel customers — who want experiences that cover both digital and traditional channels.”
Accenture’s findings poked holes in many of the assumptions surrounding the inevitable march toward robotic supermarkets and automated banks. Sure, labor costs might be rising, but 45 percent of consumers are willing to pay a higher price for a better level of customer service. And if financial efficiency is the underlining motivation for automation, Accenture estimated that the cost of losing customers to competitors costs a collective $1.6 trillion annually.
A greater degree of robotics and algorithms in retail is all but inevitable, but these findings prove that companies need to do a better way of easing their consumers into the bumpy transition.