Leading by Being Human

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woman smiling on the phone to customer service while working at home with her son

Would it surprise you to learn that half of consumers in the UK would prefer to speak to a human in your contact centre instead of using chat? It surprised me when I came across this study from CGS that showed 50% still prefer a human over chat (email and social was not a consideration).  

In reviewing this study there were two additional statistics that stood out to me:

  • 36% say chatbots are less helpful than humans
  • 25% say that a conversation over chat feels too impersonal 

If this does not tell call centre managers and business leaders something about their customers, I am not certain what will. Your customers want service, but they also value human experience. And, you can provide both. In fact, you need to provide both for one reason: your customers are people!

While I do not want to get too psychological in this blog, I do believe that it is important for call centres to understand the human condition. Foundational to the human condition is the need for connection. I understand that when I call into a contact centre for support or a question, the chances of me building a deep and meaningful connection with the agent are very slim, if not impossible. However, the conversation I have with that agent may be the pathway for me to build a connection with your brand. 

The most effective way to build this connection is by using what almost every human relates to, and that is empathy. This is not the first time I have mentioned empathy on this blog, but it bears repeating as it is the foundation for any organisation that desires to connect with people who are their customers – something, as noted above, that is very difficult to do via chat and in my experience even more difficult through a bot.

Let me provide two examples of building a human connection using a very recent event that happened to my wife and me. A number of weeks ago, my wife and I visited our daughter in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon arrival at our hotel, we parked our car in their garage where it stayed for the two nights we were in the city. When we returned to the truck, our back window had been smashed by would-be car thieves in an attempt to steal what was in the truck. Thankfully there were no valuables left in the automobile and nobody was hurt. However, it was quite an inconvenience. 

When I called the general manager of the hotel to report the issue that occurred in their parking garage, she was not only extremely rude, she asked, “what do you expect me to do?” She continued to tell me that there was nothing the hotel would do and if I wanted to call the police that was my decision and hung up the phone. 

When I called my auto insurance company to file the claim, the agent who answered began the conversation by asking “are you all ok?” and continued with “I am so terribly sorry that this happened to you all.”

Quite the contrast, isn’t it? 

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The hotel manager had zero empathy, no regard for her guests and in no way cared – and it showed. This response made such an impact that after being a loyal customer of this brand for 20 years, I am now going to switch hotel chains.

The other experience with the call centre agent was human. She felt bad that we had this experience, she showed concern, empathy, and humanness in her response long before we got to the business of filing a claim. You can be sure that my loyalty and admiration for this brand grew exponentially and I have told many about this and the other experience. One has a brand reputation boost, the other will lose an almost 20-year customer and suffers damage to their brand reputation for one reason and one reason alone – the refusal to be more human. 

If you are still questioning whether being human in your contact centre approach is viable, take a page from Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, who in this article said, “It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.” I could not agree more.

Make the shift to being human in all aspects of your business and you will be a leader among your customer base.

Expert advice on how to meet customer expectations, manage remote employees and set agents up for success.

Originally published Apr 15, 2021, updated Jul 22, 2021


Carlos Hidalgo is a 25-year business veteran. Over the span of the last two plus decades, Hidalgo has held corporate roles, started his own entrepreneurial ventures and served in non-profits.

In addition to his various roles and business pursuits, Hidalgo is the author of two books Driving Demand, one of the Top 5 Marketing Books of all time according to Book Authority which was published in 2015 and The UnAmerican Dream which was published in 2019.

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