Memo to executives: customers hate the new chatbot you just embedded on your site

I know, I know. Customer-facing bots are so darn efficient compared to humans. Plus... AI! Isn't AI supposed to rescue us from repetitive work? 

Yes. But here's the thing. 

Your customers don't view service as a repetitive task. New research out today shows customers want more humanity and less automation, especially when something goes wrong. They want their experience with your brand to be personalized--not cookie-cutter. 

The study, focusing on customer experience and commissioned by PwC, shows 59% of customers globally (and 64% in the U.S.) feel brands are so myopic about automation and trendy design, they've "lost touch" with the human element of creating a great customer experience.

Customer experience matters. 60% of consumers say they'll drop a brand (even one they love) after just a few sub-par experiences. 

At the same time, less than half of executives say they understand how they'll use automation to improve the experience they offer customers. Companies are thrashing about, wielding shiny new customer-facing AI like puppies with light sabers. And customers can't help but notice. 

Luxury brands are leading the way

Lest you despair, there are a few bright spots. Savvy brands like Ritz-Carlton and Amex are eschewing customer-facing automation in favor of internal-facing automation - and policies - that empower their employees to deliver great experiences. (Ritz-Carlton employees, for example, are empowered to spend up to $2000 fixing a botched customer experience.)

Similarly, Amex bet big on entrusting their customer service staff to serve customers in whatever way the situation called for, coaching their teams to use the opportunity to build a relationship. They stopped requiring call center representatives to adhere to a script and allowed them to spend as much time on each call as they felt necessary. 

The result? Customer retention shot up 400%. 

Under the surface, both companies invested in technology that improved internal processes such as pulling data like purchase histories that made figuring out what exactly would improve a customer's experience a fast and painless process.  Amex also put customer feedback mechanisms in place so call center reps can improve.

Great experience = right tools + right people + right practices

Just as effective teamwork requires the right fuel-air mixture of people, tech, and practices, so does creating memorable customer experiences. (The good kind of memorable.)


At a time when many brands seem content to ride the inexorable swing of the pendulum from "touch" to "tech", Amex was wise to be more intentional. Take a page from their playbook and invest in automation that lives behind the scenes and surfaces relevant information to your staff.  

And not just customer-facing staff. An investment in website analytics will help your sales and marketing teams understand where prospects are dropping out of the funnel and create a more engaging shopping experience. Automated reports in your bug tracker will show product managers where customers are running into the most problems. 


Hiring for "culture fit" sounds lovely, but it tends to create very homogeneous teams which doesn't exactly improve their collective creative thinking. Instead, hire for "values fit". Do candidates have a continuous improvement mindset that puts customers at the forefront, or are they defensive? Will they take initiative on behalf of their customers, or will they wait for instructions from on high? 


Creating a culture of empowerment isn't rocket science, but you do have to be intentional in three key areas.

  • Transparency: Open up communication internally and with your customers whenever it's practical (and sometimes when it isn't). The internal sharing will lead to valuable insights when members of, say, the customer service team see data from website analytics and begin to connect the dots. And being open with customers about known issues and the avenues available to improve their experience goes a long way in cementing their loyalty. 
  • Autonomy: Give teams and individuals decision-making power so they can act quickly.
  • Community: Keep in touch with customers so you can learn more about their reasons for choosing your bring, how they use your product, and what else they need from you. Then share the findings with the entire company so it can inform day-to-day decisions at every level. 

When done right, a culture of empowerment reduces friction internally, and therefore reduces friction in the customer experience.

Here's an example. For years, the workload for Atlassian's legal team was strictly email- and ping-driven. They set up a service desk portal that made it easer to request their help and automated prioritization of their backlog, but that only served to increase their queue (and the wait times for requestors). Now, they still use the portal, but they've paired with improvements to how they route work and new policies that allow many requests to be 99% self-service. They delighted their internal customers by helping them help themselves. 

Your competitors are still on auto-pilot

Ninety percent of companies in the study said that creating better experiences for customers is not a priority for them on the digital front. That leaves a massive opening for savvy competitors (like you) to differentiate themselves in the customer experience space and reap the benefits.

Roughly 70 percent of consumers surveyed said the promise of a better experience will prompt them switch brands. All you have to do is create one.