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While technological advances are transforming service culture, they are also prone to failures that could impact businesses on a large scale. Find out how to futureproof your company, so that humanity remains at the heart of service.

In recent times, we’ve witnessed how natural disasters and unforeseen events can severely disrupt the technological infrastructure that organizations heavily rely on. Imagine a scenario where a massive power outage affects hundreds of thousands of people across a region, severely impacting daily operations and communications. This isn’t just hypothetical; such incidents have occurred worldwide, highlighting the vulnerability of our digital dependencies.

Just as telling is the chaos that ensues from technical glitches within major telecommunications providers, leading to widespread disruption in internet, mobile phone and fixed-line services. These outages can cripple essential services including healthcare, finance, transportation and emergency response, underscoring the cascading effects of technological failures on society and the economy.

If your business isn’t prepared for technology to fail, these events suggest that it might be worth playing out some scenarios and planning for it. The questions to answer are: ‘What are the risks when technology fails?’ and ‘Who are the risks when technology fails?’

Digital technology isn’t an accessory, it’s an integral part of our lives. But when the lights turn off and the computer says ‘no’, you can fall back on analogue solutions like good old-fashioned pen to paper for some things – but how straightforward is it to have the people in your business prepared and ready to serve in ways they perhaps never have before?

Technology is destroying and evolving service at the same time.

Service industries, in particular, are madly rushing to digitalize for efficiency. In an era of automation, AI and self-service, it’s easy to succumb to the narrative that machines will replace humans in almost every field, including service. It’s even easier to miss the nuances that make human service irreplaceable.

The future, especially during technological crises, may well depend on our ability to re-emphasize the importance of human-to-human service. Here are two futureproof principles to embed in your service culture for when human-to-human interaction is the only option:

1. Make a ‘moments that matter’ plan

If you were to hand the role of front-facing service at your business entirely over to an intelligent robot, what would the role of humans be in your workplace? This is a question we encourage all our clients to answer when they consider their customer journey and the ‘moments that matter’ to their customer.

‘Moments that matter’ are interactions in which there’s an opportunity to delight a customer and build trust and loyalty but which, if handled poorly, could lead to you losing that customer.

The future, especially during technological crises, may well depend on our ability to re-emphasize the importance of human-to-human service.

A great place to start is to consider all the touchpoints your customers experience in your business that create greater stress or anxiety for them. Often this stress can be defused by speaking with a human being, but a human being can make matters worse in a service failure. Once you’ve identified these touchpoints, decide on the role of the human in them.

There are times when we want to be served by technology; we want efficiency. There are times when we want to be served by humans; we want connection. There are times when we want both. Make a ‘moments that matter’ plan which includes both tech and humanity, so that the service experience is not at the mercy of an on/off switch.

2. Upskill to deal with the human stuff

Technology is reconditioning the way we interact and cope with the human stuff. But when technology fails and the machines stop doing all the heavy lifting and responding to grumpy, frustrated customers, how well will the people in your business be able to manage their own emotions? Will they be able to put the needs of others first?

To give good service, you first need a healthy dose of motivation and resilience. Superficial motivation and resilience lead to unstable emotions when you’re under pressure – because you can’t keep faking the expected behavior.

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You also need the soft skills that AI is starting to take over: how to pay attention, how to ask great questions, how to think critically and creatively, how to apply emotional reasoning to our responses and written replies. We just don’t have to use our brains as much anymore.

A futureproof plan for customer loyalty and staff development therefore has to involve frequent, short bursts of service education and training plans to ensure that people in the business are continually learning, growing and developing their soft skills.

Businesses who roar through a recession or come out of a crisis with a competitive advantage typically have strong service culture foundations.

At the very least, in case a technology fails sometime soon, make sure your staff use customers’ names, smile with their eyes and spend a few extra moments creating a connection with each person.

But upskilling your people for technology failures is not just a smart consequence plan – it’s good business. Customers are grumpier and staff are ultrasensitive, which means leaders need to get really good at the human stuff or be left behind.

When all’s said and done, businesses who roar through a recession or come out of a crisis with a competitive advantage typically have strong service culture foundations. Put simply: they believe that the humans in their business are their advantage.

While technology is grabbing everyone’s attention, we forget that humanity is at the heart of service. We have names, hearts and minds; we are spiritual beings having a human experience; we thrive from connecting with other humans. The way things used to be in service before digital technology is almost unimaginable now, and perhaps we wouldn’t choose to return to it. But I know we still value old-fashioned human-to-human service. We must be good at both, to thrive.

Jaquie Scammell

Contributor Collective Member

Jaquie Scammell is Australia’s leading expert in customer service and the Founder and CEO of ServiceQ. With 35 years of experience in the industry, she helps organizations reimagine the future of service through mindsets and behaviors, providing individuals with practical tools they can apply. As well as a sought-out speaker, blogger and media commentator, she is the author of ‘Service Mindsets’ and multi-award-winning ‘Service Habits’. Find out more at https://jaquiescammell.com/

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