Too Much AI?

You may have heard that there are two types of people. That is false;  there are three. At least that is the case for people’s preferences for interacting with brands. 

There are those that are content to do everything through a tech platform and avoid all direct human contact. These are the types of people who avoid going into banks and will always make a beeline for the ATM to get cash or take care of any other kinds of transactions they can’t do online. This is standard for behavior for your digital native millennials or your extreme introverts. 

On the opposite extreme you have the kind of customer who wants to speak to a real live person, preferably in-person. This is the type of person who will travel into the bank and wait to speak to a teller just to check her bank balance. She likely owns a computer and may even have a smartphone, but neither one is used for actual transactions. Marc Prensky identified that group in 2001 as “ digital immigrants.”    

The third group, between the two extremes, is commonly found in the in-between generation known as X. The people in that group have grown up using the phone to make calls but have adapted to using machines and the internet for transactions. Even if they are used to having human cashiers, for example, they will use self-checkout options to save time. 

I identify with the third group. I’ve learned to love online shopping for its convenience and transparency. But there are times when there is a problem with an online order, and I seek out a person to call because the canned chatbot responses don’t solve my problems. 

As we saw in Convenience Drives Consumers’ Tech Demands, customers don’t care about your shiny new tech, only about what improves their experience with a brand.  That’s the thing to remember when setting up communication channels: tech solutions are not necessarily going to make your customers happier, and they can have the opposite effect. 

That was the subject of a recent survey of over 2,000 U.S. consumers commissioned by Invoca. 

Among its findings was that over half of customers (52 percent) report feeling frustrated with companies that offer no option for a human interaction” and close to a fifth (18 percent) go so far as to express anger about it. That indicates a setup that relies exclusively on automated communication incurs more negative than positive feeling, as only 16 percent report that they enjoy the experience. 

It’s not a big surprise that Invoca finds variations between age groups with respect to trust in AI. Generally, the younger they are, the more they trust. AI generated advice (80 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds vs. 62 percent ages 35 plus) — especially when it comes to financial services and healthcare, with 22 percent (each) of 18 to 34-year-olds trusting AI-generated advice for healthcare and finance compared to 10 percent (each) of 65-plus year olds.” 

That’s the  contrast between digital natives and digital immigrants at work. But if you slice things another way, the report also found different preferences between the genders. Women were more inclined to get their information over the phone than men were in all categories. 

While age group and gender are very broad marketing segments, they do serve as a starting point for opening channels that are amenable to one’s target market.  Accordingly, those who are marketing healthcare or financial services would be smart to set up AI for communication intended for customers in their twenties. 

But even when you have a young target market, it still pays to have some human contact available for the significant minority that prefers that form of communication. It becomes even more important when dealing with your Gen X and senior citizens. And for any of the categories aimed at women, removing phone contacts is not the way to go to win their loyalty and influence further purchases. 

As Julia Stead, VP of Marketing, Invoca, observes, “Every company needs to be aware of its customers’ preferences and prioritize them in their marketing strategy. While AI and automation can help with simple interactions or requests, the option to connect with a human should always be on the table for consumers, especially in industries like healthcare and financial services.” 

Brands that offer no phone numbers in the hopes of forcing people to only communicate via automated channels alienate customers, which amounts to incalculable sums of lost revenue. While it’s true that you can’t be all things to all people, brands can at least allow for people to reach them via email, chat, or phone, according to the customer’s preference.

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