Automation has been suffering from a bad reputation problem lately. This is especially true in the retail sector where a recent survey indicated 2 out of 3 retail workers fear technology will overtake many of their job duties. But there’s a much more optimistic tone among industry insiders and analysts.

The World Economic Forum, the think tank behind Davos, agrees that jobs will be displaced, but asserts that the jobs going away are of a repetitive nature. They forecast that more jobs will be created rather than lost due to AI and automation, and these new roles will require skills that humans do best. They note “human skills, as well as jobs with distinctly human traits, are still in demand.”

Near the top of that list of jobs best done by humans is customer service representatives. That’s because robots don’t have empathy and can’t make emotional connections—at least not yet. Another reason that analysts cite is information overload. With data-generated recommendations and Google search results in the millions for most products and services, customers are overwhelmed by choice and increasingly seeking out the guidance of experts.

Customer Service Roles on the Rise

The breadth of customer service roles is expanding to include highly skilled, emotionally intelligent employees, many of whom are on the frontlines of consumer interactions. These are the employees who will foster trust and help drive new and recurring sales for your organization, in positions that range from sales and product support to advisory positions in the financial, retail and lifestyle sectors.

One of the roles on the uptick is the personal shopper. McKinsey called out personalized shopping (guided by human interactions) as one of the hottest retail trends in 2018. The stat echoes Engageware’s own research which found that 69 percent of consumers looking for personal shopping services strongly endorse the importance of in-person meetings.

There’s also an increased demand for universal bankers. While these all-in-one bankers have a financial services background, they are also highly attuned to customer needs, acting as the ‘customer sherpa,’ guiding them through multiple processes, and anticipating next steps. They need to be well versed in multiple aspects of banking, but more importantly, they also need to provide each customer with a very personalized experience.

The surprise comeback of the travel agent may be one of the best examples of experience over automation. While it’s easier than ever to search for and book travel online, information overload is real. Millennials especially are using travel agents in record numbers, relying on them to do much more than simply book tickets. Instead, they look to these travel experts to help them personalize their trips and create more meaningful experiences.

Why Customer Service Matters

These new customer-focused jobs are increasingly important for a reason. Customers want convenience, but they also want personalized and meaningful experiences in retail and beyond. Giving the customer what they want is good business, and it boosts sales, too. In addition to adding to the bottom line and increasing loyalty (which turns into repeat business), it helps stave off the dreaded cost of acquiring new customers. While it’s always been cheaper to nurture existing clients versus paying to attract new ones, recent stats show that it’s about 5 times cheaper to keep your existing customers happy. A little increase in personalization goes a long way in impressing overloaded consumers.

Customer Service as a Competitive Differentiator

These employees are also an organization’s best competitive weapon. If you and your competitors offer similar products, services, and pricing, customer service becomes your differentiator. A slightly superior product or marginally lower price isn’t enough to make up for the customer experience factor. We know that people want human interactions, even in industries such as banking where the ATM is a mainstay, and they also want one-on-one time with experts as highlighted by the increase in personal shoppers. As McKinsey notes, the way to compete is not on price, but to, “double down on the open battlegrounds of the value proposition.”

That value prop lies in the experiences often created by sharp and attuned employees. Whether it’s providing appointments with those on staff who can offer advice and authority, or providing access to a community-curated by in-the-know staff, these transactions can evolve into lifelong relationships.

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