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Automated Services

By Shweta Roy Chowdhury, Innovation Consultant @ LIVELABS

Reccently, me and my family decided to do a road trip to a nearby fishing camp. We were very thrilled about getting one of the self-drive cars and driving down to the camp. Zoomcar, a car rental service focuses on the autonomy of the driver in a country full of chauffeur-driven rentals. It has a really interesting customer journey that is completely automated. So one can basically book a car and unlock the car through the app, find the keys in the dashboard and do a similar routine on returning the car back. There is no service agent waiting to give you the car or to check it once it’s back so it saves the customer the drudgery of queues and unnecessary waiting.

The service journey is pretty intuitive. There is no delay in processing the request, receiving the car keys or experiencing any delay in submission or return of documents. One can upload the fuel slips and the ID card through the app and focus on enjoying the road trip.

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However, what the service does not take into consideration is the glitch in the matrix. What happens if you finish the trip by mistake while you are in the car and then struggle for information on how to lock the car? The customer care is not always available (since the process is accounted for) and there is no human touch-point to seek assistance from. And that is what is what happened to us; we clicked on finish the trip before stepping out of the car. Now we had no way to leave the keys inside the car and lock the car. The customer care was not available and there were no human touch-points to reach out to. So we wasted 30 minutes figuring out on what to do.

This means just as much as we prepare for all scenarios in a service, there will always be a glitch in the matrix. Psychologists and Behavioral Scientists have time again and again established the irrationality of human mind. And with the rise of more automated services in the economy, that is what we need to prepare for. How adaptive or well-prepared are our systems to improvise/adapt to those unexpected glitches.

Often what one means with the all-encompassing word – Human Touch is just this, an ability to deal with a range of unprecedented situations, the glitches in the matrix. It is much easier to negotiate with a human being than with an IVR or an app that leaves no scope of negotiation or resolution. Emotion and social skills are important to an intelligent agent for two reasons. First, being able to predict the actions of others by understanding their motives and emotional states allow an agent to make better decisions. Second, in an effort to facilitate a service, an intelligent machine may want to display emotions (even if it does not experience those emotions itself) to appear more sensitive to the emotional dynamics of human interaction.

That brings us to the question, with the rise of automation in the service industry how can we design more intelligent and sensitive services? The question then arises can user-centric design be an important tool in the future for humanizing automated services especially the customer-facing ones?

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The core essence of user-centric design is Empathy, the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the other which means as designers we get into the shoes of the user/customer. The Design Process includes immersing in the world of the user, understanding behavioral patterns and finding cues to design directions. The key outcome of this methodology is the unraveling of a host of unprecedented behaviors that the technologists may not observe. The design process calls this deep understanding and synthesis of the user data as insights. The user insights equip us with a fresh vision to the service. They ground the process in the real user, not the perceived user. If practiced with precision and skill, they ought to reveal the blind spots of the service and question the status-quo.

Taking these insights into consideration may help our chances of designing more emotionally intelligent systems that can adapt around the irrational human mind and emotions. The Design Process takes a journey of mapping these beliefs, motivations and behaviors in the process so that our service is more placed in reality which may result in integrating more contextual features for the customer. If technological advances outpace emotional readiness, it may result in an unpleasant experience. Therefore what user research should ideally articulate, are those spaces in the service that could potential throw off the user. The real challenge is to be able to elicit these spaces from the user. That remains a skill that takes years to hone even as a trained designer.

Therefore, a potentially interesting space for Design in days to come could be to humanize/contextualize automated systems. It could see the scope of design going beyond the conventional user research/experience and delve into a more systemic approach of humanizing the service across different touch-points. The human touch will then not be a vestigial feature of our existence but something that will adapt and change forms in a fast-changing technological world.

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If technological advances outpace emotional readiness, it may result in an unpleasant experience.

Shweta is an inquisitive design researcher, who sees dance as poetry in motion.

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