The death of human-to-human customer interactions. What can we save?

In a post Covid world, where the demise of ‘bricks & mortar retail’ was already an impending reality prior. The consumer no longer gets to see a human face. AI chatbots and digital self-service have delivered on the efficiency that they promised, but at the deep expense of customer service and experience. Interacting with a company used to be first-names, smiles, weather banter, season’s greetings, etc. It used to be personal.

Now customer interactions are quicker yes, but cold, functional, and wholly unmemorable.

The final vestige of a real human customer touchpoint is voice. Not when we call the companies no, that journey is replete with options, numbers to press if this or that, but when the company calls you…that’s still normal. The regulators have made sure of that by banning practices like Robocalls and Silentcalls.

Your bank or phone company call you and it’s an actual person, his name is Josh, he may have a regional accent, but you sort of like that. He’s human and he gets your frustration and your sarcasm and there is no tension or anxiety managing your account, you don’t have to incessantly repeat yourself, and as you explain your issue you do not feel insecure or stressed in anticipation that he won’t get it.

There’s just one problem…You hardly ever pick up to Josh.

It’s not your fault most of us do not pick up numbers that are not in our phonebook.

We’ve learned our lessons when we’ve had to explain to some well-meaning guy out of a call-centre in Delhi, his assumingly impressive resilience and work ethic aside, that we have not been in an accident, have not got a PPI policy, and are not looking to save money on my utility bills.

Why should you risk 10 seconds of your life to screen the call, possibly get sucked in, or worse confirm that your number is active on whatever dubiously generated list they are working from. No bloody way.

Meanwhile, the regulators have limited how many times Josh is allowed to try you. And so that potentially important call from the bank only has 40% of ever connecting and 15% chance of connecting first time, which is a disaster if it’s urgent. An absurd state of play.

Companies can do more, they can send an SMS with the reason for the call prior to the call. They can mask their numbers with local numbers or even mobile numbers. We’re a hell of a lot more likely to pick up the phone to a mobile number. However, research seems to show that SMS warning brings only marginal improvements. Same marginality with local mobile numbers too. Also, the latter been criticised as it is essentially duping customers into picking up. Not a good look.

There is some hope, patents filed in 2013 and subsequently granted in 2020, by a UK company called Incall Ltd have found a way that enables companies to convert the otherwise suspicious and number riddled call-screen into something different altogether. The Incall Ltd Patent include claims a method that displays “content relating to the calling party” on the call screen, presumably a logo and a reason for the call. It seems like a no brainer that this sort of calling will be how we are going to be reached in the future.

Incall Ltd patent lawyers, Mathy’s and Squire were reached by phone “Incall Ltd are in discussions with a large global Licensee, with Licensor rights to operate guaranteed. These are highly confidential negotiations and all parties are working towards wide adoption across iOS and Android in the near future.”

Mathys and Squire were not forthcoming regarding any of our other questions.

In the meantime, it seems we will have to continue tolerating this crazy goodcall/badcall dilemma every time we pick up our devices to see who is calling. Feels like a game of first-world Russianroulette. Probably best to just put the gun down for now. Companies will have to find another way.