What do you do in the digital age if service is your strongest selling point? 

The irrepressible march of the machine is already locked into the 'service industries'. We expect to bank, shop, book holidays etc. and seem content to cut out the human interaction. Even ordering a taxi today (via Uber) can be done without talking to anyone. Where will this take us and our idea of customer service?

The common link is that consumer purchases are seen as the pointy end of what seems an ever widening complex funnel where the obsession is to get the sale through as fast as possible. An understandable reaction but as the philosopher, Nick Bostrom, said, "If you create a really powerful optimisation process to maximise objective “X” you better make sure that your definition of X incorporates everything you care about."

Is there really a shrinking universal need for the human touch as our collective marketing objective “X” suggests? Should we simply carry on and mechanise all transactions completely?

Of course there is a time when you just want to get in and get out. But looking at it from an offline perspective, I posed this question to a senior marketer in one of our more upmarket supermarket chains. Surprisingly he pointed out that he thought self-service tills had been a big mistake, a lost opportunity to both interact and gather marketing data and have significantly contributed, in his opinion, to his chains demise. He believed, self-service technology is not necessarily more efficient than well-trained cashiers if all intangible costs/benefits are weighed up.  

It’s the inescapable 'hard choice' it would seem, between transactions or relationships. In other words, if you focus on the relationship and forget the transaction you waste the company’s resources. 

Inefficient or not, human-to-human interaction and the empathy it produces adds an important element of the brand experience for a consumer (yes it’s a bad experience sometimes but that’s another discussion). However, as more transactions happen online the user experience is dominated by the idea of the ‘time poor’ consumer so the obsession of channel conversion optimisation will prevail.

But if UX and design creators are not mindful enough to take into account empathetic awareness and users aren’t demanding enough to request it, where will this lead us. As this behaviour it begins to permeate more offline into activities traditionally characterised by human to human interaction (like shopping and ordering a taxi) what will happen to those companies with a strong service culture?

So should you go further and start thinking now about ways to endow future machine intelligence with positive human-like values or just go with the flow?

Just a thought.