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In my last post I somewhat labored some film analogies that I drew from the various presentations at the Employee Engagement Summit which I had the privilege of chairing. But I want to extend this by just one film that I think has relevance to how we might think about customer, and indeed employee, engagement in the future.

This film is Ex Machina, a thought-provoking film released in 2015 that touches on the idea of how personal, close and attached machines might be able to get to humans, and vice versa. Can a machine be developed to fall in love? This is taking the Turing Test on a stage further, from Alan Turing’s original idea that the ‘test’ is passed when a human can interact with a machine without sensing any difference to a human to human interaction. Ex Machina as a film considers a deeper level of emotional engagement, not just a transactional one. And here is the relevance to our industry.

We already have machines that ‘transact’ – ATM’s, IVR’s, websites, ticket machines and knowledge bases, for example, but we still as humans rely on, and value, the personal touch of real people when the conversations need to get deeper – to complain, to negotiate, to counsel, to flirt, to pacify, to argue. But what if machines could do these as well as, and possibly even better (certainly more consistently) than humans? If Ex Machina as an idea was even feasible or close to reality could that then suggest the demise of contact centres and the need for humans in service and sales – other than in the design and programming process? I don’t think this is so far-fetched or indeed so far away. Right now the Google Self-Drive Car is in (successful) trials around the world. It is safe. The technology is proven. The only accidents involving the Google cars have been human errors when a person overruled, or collided with, the car.

That the technology is safe and reliable is therefore certain, but Google are now recruiting philosophers to help answer the deeper questions of driving and road use – how do you decide between the safety of passengers or the safety of pedestrians when the technology predicts a fatal accident about to happen to the car, for example? When is it ok for the car to break rules or road laws in the interest of safety or journey efficiency, or example? And so if Google is making these types of complex and life-affecting questions solvable now, how long before they, or someone else, turns their attention to customer management? Not long I suspect and this creates really interesting challenges for us in this industry as we lift our head to the future to plan. Is employee engagement merely a short-to-mid-term objective before the robots arrive, for example? Should we be thinking harder about what multi-channel, customer engagement and self-service really means to our business, as another example? Interesting times without doubt.

Think I will go and ponder all this quietly in a dark place. The cinema perhaps…

Mike Havard is Director of Ember Services and a long-standing leader and innovator in customer management strategies and operations, working with major brands across the world. He can be contacted on mike.havard@emberservices.com

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