Phasing out the humanness of our commute

Matt Ellwood
July 9, 2020

What was the first voice you heard this morning? And I mean real life, in person voice – not the lady on Spotify who is asking you to upgrade to Premium for the 143rd time.  As technology reaches new heights, human interaction is reaching new lows. Across the travel industry workers are being moulded into robots as the thing that sets them apart from the machines, their personality, is being muted.

Uber has just started testing a new product in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch called Comfort mode. One of the features in this product is the ability to turn driver small talk off – and at first glance this seems like a good new option.

But, by removing the ability for the driver to talk, we are downgrading their status from human to a machine; whose only job is to mimic a machine until the machine takes their job. If we are hopping into someone’s car, even if we are paying them, we have a duty to be a human being and say hello and chat about the weather or how busy they have been today. Undoubtedly, this experiment is preparing us for life after drivers, in a world where the only touchpoints with Uber will be through the app. How on brand…

Continuing on this theme, Fullers a few years ago automated welcome messages across their fleet, something that was done by individual captains before. These new messages are generic, lack warmth and take away the human connection people used to have with the master of the vessel. Recently I have noticed that after the pre-recorded message, there is often a separate announcement from the captain, basically repeating what was said in the robotic sounding recording. The human is fighting back, the people on the ground have  realised that an authentic human voice gives confidence to passengers, much like how a good Airline pilot will give a weather update before taking off. Speaking of airlines, Air New Zealand have embraced the human voice and very few of their cabin announcements are pre-recorded. The airline empowers their cabin crew and pilots to being their humanness to the PA announcements, something that has helped them become the best airline in the world for 5 years running.

Automation is removing the human interaction in our commutes – and we are just at the very start of this shift. I for one value this human interaction and intervention. I love it when the Uber driver talks to me and suggests a faster route based on his experience and when the pilot updates me on the All Blacks game mid-flight. Some interactions with brands and services are better automated, and others are better from humans. And for different people at different times, each is more desirable. So one of the keys to good CX design is working out which bits should be human and which should be automated.

Our view for a long time has been that brands should use all the technology they can – but really only to make them more human. We need to make interactions and experiences better, more rewarding, more empathetic and base this on an understanding of what people want/ need at the right time.

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