In an Era of Automation and AI, Your Customers Need Your Humanity

Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from co-author David Meerman Scott’s upcoming book, Fanocracy: How to Turn Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans. It released in January 2020.

book coverMarketers today recognize how the automation of our world holds tremendous opportunities for their business. However, many of us act as if that’s the only option.

From banks to athletic brands and airlines, companies gather data on us. When we search for something on the web, that history follows us. It surfaces advertisements based on what the algorithms have learned about our past behavior. Facebook and other social networks deliver content based on our recent clicks. Our Netflix viewing habits dictate the movies and television series that are featured when we look for something new to watch.

As we roll out artificial intelligence in marketing, it’s essential that we remain vigilant about keeping the human aspects of our marketing intact. As customers become more comfortable with and experienced in their interactions with AI programs, they learn to detect when they are communicating with a machine rather than a human.

I predict that, in a world of AI, people will crave true human connection even more. It’s something I wrote about in my new book Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans. I wrote the book with my 26-year-old daughter, Reiko.

When we step toward a future of robots and digitized problem solving, we often sacrifice our individuality as well as that of our clients. This sacrifice becomes all too apparent when the data gets it wrong. Examples of this include:

  • Customer service: The man in New Jersey who wants a replacement part for his well-loved outdoor grill but keeps getting stuck in automated survey requests and service chatbots instead of real help. He has family arriving next week to celebrate the spectacular Independence Day party he’s so famous for, so he decides to ditch the grill he loves and buy another brand. “Life’s too short!” he calls out to his wife.
  • Sales: The business traveler who needs to change her mobile phone plan so that it’s cost-effective for the month she’ll be working in another part of the world. No matter what she does, the mobile carrier’s site insists on bringing her to the page that upgrades the yearly plan or the page for upgrading her phone. She gives up in frustration, and then is shocked a few months later when hundreds of dollars in international roaming charges appears on her bill.

As a consumer yourself, do you sometimes feel like part of a string of numbers? Or another email address unknowingly added to a list of untold millions of other addresses? What do the numbers, lists and facts you collect mean? Does it feel like companies have turned you and your family into an abstraction? Have they separated themselves from the you that is your story?

You can shout as loud as you want in a satisfaction survey, but do you feel like you’re being heard? What do you do? Like our New Jersey grill aficionado who takes pride in his cherished cookouts, you might decide to move on to the next brand.

This is the process of dehumanization, and it deprives customers of their ability to have their own thoughts or feelings. In short, technology cannot re-create the emotional weight of decisions made by a person who’s spent their entire life forming their own personal story.

That essential piece will always be missing when digital dominates the experience. The only way to reverse the trend is by learning how to explore the emotional significance of the decisions that your clients make, and you achieve this by understanding their stories.

AI can’t replace human interaction, but it can make the jobs of humans easier—as well as give us all more time for genuine human interaction.

David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott is an internationally acclaimed business strategist, entrepreneur, adviser to emerging companies and public speaker. In addition to Fanocracy, he is the author of 10 previous books, including The New Rules of Marketing & PR.Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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