Real human interactions trump the bots.

An AI generated illustration of AI being interviewed by a journalist provided by

You would be hard-pressed to find a place today where you are sheltered from the discussion around the new developments in AI. From boardroom meetings, to dinner tables, to Facebook forums, the role that AI will be playing in society is forefront in everyone’s minds. In human-facing industries some are wondering if it will take over jobs, others are interested in harnessing its powers for furthering their industries, but after some short research involving real humans (and one all-powerful AI bot), the results are in. And no surprises in the battle with the bots – humans win.

When one begins to look at the current advancements in the accessibility and usefulness of AI, such as ChatGPT, it is important to be able to discern the sustainability from the hype. While these technological advancements are groundbreaking, exciting, and revolutionary, in the customer experience industry we need to take a step back and remember who our customers are and what they want.

Our customers and clients are human beings who desire authentic human interaction.

We, at nlightencx., have been asked by many of our friends, clients, and associates about the benefits of using AI in our customer journeys. Over the next few weeks we will be exploring more about the pros and cons, and we will be talking to experts in the industries (maybe you have seen some of our chats with Futureworld International Co-Founder Anton Musgrave already). But to kick things off we spoke to the most important people – the customers.

When looking at the current customer service options available, it can be narrowed down to four basics: Human Interaction, Self-Help, Online Forum, or ChatBots. We took to our social media to see which of these options brought the best service and, most notably, the most joy during interactions. Out of about 100 responses, over 85% found the best service from human interaction, 14% from self-help and FAQs, and only 1% enjoyed interacting with ChatBots.

Now this is not surprising at all – but why is it that we will also err on the side of humans? The answer is just as unsurprising – because we are HUMAN!

When asked about experiencing loss, Kevin shows how AI is incapable of human emotion, most specifically empathy. Empathy, compassion, understanding, and kindness are cornerstones of engaging with humans in a meaningful way.

While AI might be efficient and to the point, their biggest downfall is that they lack the understanding of human emotion. Their responses, while to the point, are cold. They cannot empathise with what we are experiencing as a customer because they have never experienced anything we have. At best, they can simulate what they have learned through ones and zeros what our experience might look like. While a bot might be able to use the correct language to mimic compassion, their responses are not authentic. You would find as much empathy and human understanding from a bot as you would from a Kenwood mixer user manual.

When ChatGPT, who we shall call Kevin (he said he was okay with this I promise), was asked about the role he sees AI will play in customer service he had this to say:

“It is possible that AI may play a larger role in the customer service industry in the future. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are already being used by many companies to provide customers with quick and convenient access to information and support. These tools can handle simple, routine tasks and inquiries quickly and efficiently, freeing up human customer service representatives to focus on more complex and nuanced issues.

However, it is unlikely that AI will completely take over the customer service industry in the near future. While AI can handle simple and routine tasks, many customer service interactions involve complex issues that require human empathy, intuition, and problem-solving skills. AI also lacks the ability to understand the emotional context of a situation, which can be critical in resolving customer concerns.” (OpenAI’s GPT-3 session accessed 7 February 2023)

Kevin explains what he perceives his pitfalls to be in the realm of customer service.

There you have it in Kevin’s own (assimilated and aggregated) words. The limitations are evident, and it doesn’t take a superbot to figure that out. Kevin went on to explain that AI has limitations with emotional-intelligence, creativity, contextual understanding, adaptability, and problem-solving. So while able to complete some tasks to improve efficiency, the main purpose of AI would be to free up humans to actually engage with customers.

As humans with a gamut of human emotion, our biggest desire is to feel like we are understood, seen, and valued. We want to know that our concern matters, ultimately that we matter. And it is human connection that drives experience.

Customer service through human interaction, and even self-help, are preferred because it involves help from humans who can empathise with a customer, humans that can understand context, nuance, and humans that have emotional intelligence. A human working in customer service can understand the frustration a customer might be feeling, they know the pinch of the economy, they know what it is like to have a bad day, and ultimately they know their own need for human connection and will bring it to any interaction.

To bring the best service to a customer, we need to bring our humanity to the forefront. It is these human interactions they resonate and are remembered by customers.

If you want to look at using AI to take your customer service to the next level, look at how it can be used as a tool to free up your people to do the real work of connecting with your customers.

P.s Just in case you were wondering, this blog was written by a real-life human 😉

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

Blog: by Nathalie Schooling

We are in the business of understanding the journey of our clients’ customers, and what still amazes me is how many companies forget the fundamental ‘first impression’. This refers to the very beginning stage of the customer/client/guest/passenger/member/patient journey, and why customer journey mapping is one of the most valuable CX exercises a company can invest in. It’s an incredible tool if facilitated properly and on a regular basis, especially when you have changes or new service/product offerings.

Just putting yourself in your customers shoes at the starting point of their interaction with your brand can be a serious eye-opener. Depending on your industry, this would typically be called the arrival/arrive/onboarding stage. Getting this stage right certainly goes a long way in terms of how the relationship will develop over time. Nailing it will ensure that you don’t waste time, effort, and revenue in reparations down the line.

Let me give you an example. My son and I went on a short vacay during the September holidays to Mauritius. Unfortunately, flights are few, and the only one we could get landed at night. We left Cape Town very early that morning (followed by waiting for a connecting flight from Jozi) and finally arrived at the airport in Mauritius at 21h30. We were not exactly oozing with charm after such a long day of travel.

Once we got through passport control (not a friendly experience), we were shuffled onto a tour bus built for people no taller than 5ft. The driver of the bus, who hardly spoke a word of English, was also the baggage handler, so we sat on the muggy, cramped bus while suitcases were loaded (adding more time to this endless journey). With no water to quench our thirst, and no idea of what time we would be leaving, we weren’t sure if we should rush back to the airport to scavenge for something to drink. After an hour of waiting on the bus and then another hour of travelling on said bus, we arrived in pitch darkness at the resort. Parched, achy, hot, grumpy, hungry, and frankly a bit shaken by the bus driver who thought he was Pascal Wehrlein (a German-Mauritian racing car driver), we were ‘greeted’ by someone who was clearly a trainee porter and who looked like he had never seen a tour bus filled with Saffers before.

We poured out of the bus, not quite sure what to expect next. Just getting the luggage sorted took another 30 minutes! Next, we were told to sit and wait for someone to ‘check us in’. Talk about anxiety – we were the last in the queue. Eventually, a woman handed me a tablet so that I could retype all the information I had already provided when booking this holiday. It was now well past 22h00.

We were then told to hurry if we wanted dinner before the ‘restaurant’ would close – a fancy name for what was in fact, a canteen. There we were given the option to select from the tired remains of food available, and then directed to revisit reception to collect our key cards.

There was zero explanation about the resort, or an offer to chat through all the facilities the next morning. We were just given our key cards and pointed in the direction of our room.

Through our travel agent, I had specifically booked a room with two king beds, but the room we were assigned had just one queen bed. I was now beside myself.

This lovely treat of a holiday, which we were terribly excited about, was not starting on a great note. I asked to be moved to the room that I had paid for, but the housekeeping folks said that the hotel was fully booked and that they had no other rooms available. After much discussion, a single bed was delivered, I unpacked… and then stewed until I eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, I sent a rather uptight text to my travel agent, with pictures attached. I was seething. I won’t bore you with further details but, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, we eventually got the room that I had booked and paid for. This meant repacking suitcases and unpacking suitcases. Again! This exercise pretty much took up the first official day of our holiday, including needing to sleep for most of the next day as I was utterly exhausted.

To give credit where credit is due, the guest relations manager did her very best to go out of her way to apologise and offered us two complimentary massages as a token of their apology. This was a sweet gesture, but the arrival part of our experience was so disappointing, and it really did steal two days out of a 6-day holiday.

My son and I enjoyed the four remaining days, but I certainly won’t be a returning guest, nor will I recommend the resort.

What could have been done differently?

Let’s look at some very simple tweaks that would have absolutely changed the game.

First, know your customer. In this case: your guests. We are from South Africa, where most people can speak English but very few understand French. Generally, the SA guests check in at night so the bus transport company that represents the resort’s brand should have someone on board at the airport who can speak English, to welcome guests, hand each person a bottle of cold water, and brief travellers on what to expect (how long the bus trip is, what happens on arrival at the hotel, etc.). If that is too much of a stretch, a bottle of water and a note from the hotel explaining the process would be better than nothing. You want your guests/customers/clients to feel “supported” right from the get-go.

South African tourists are this particular hotel group’s main source of sales – so I ask you, with tears in my eyes, why choose a trainee porter who hardly speaks English to be the ‘face’ that greets a swarm of 50 new guests who are not in the best of moods? Just to be clear – everyone on the bus was grumpy at this point. It would have made all the difference if there was someone who spoke English, was fully trained, and was competent to welcome the guests.

Know that your customer is going to face a long journey from the airport, understand their emotional state, and know that if you ‘on-board’ with genuine kindness at this point, it will be the customers’ ‘moment of truth’.  You need to get this right.

Slip-ups happen, but it is SO much harder to win back a disgruntled customer whose expectations have not been met at the arrival point than to retain a temporarily disappointed client who has already been through enjoyable interactions with your brand.

Typically, it’s financial institutions and retailers who use customer journey mapping to good effect, but as the example I’ve provided shows, businesses should invest in this powerful tool that allows you to put themselves in your customer’s shoes, understand their high points and pain points when engaging with your business, and highlight opportunities for quick win areas where you should be making improvements.

The Importance Of Responsiveness

In today’s ever-changing, “always on” market, being responsive is more important than ever. Clients, customers and consumers demand responsiveness and if a business can’t provide it, they will take their business elsewhere.


Blogpost by Nathalie Schooling

Consumers have countless options when it comes to where they shop, what they buy and who they do business with. With so many choices, businesses must be responsive to the needs and wants of their customers if they want to be successful.

A business that is responsive to its customers is one that listens to feedback and makes changes accordingly. It’s also one that is quick to adapt to new trends and technologies. In other words, a responsive business is an agile one.

One of the major trends of 2022 in terms of customer experience – (B2C) and Client (B2B) – is the demand for immediate and continual responsiveness. The pandemic broke down most of what resistance remained to online interaction. The proliferation of accessible apps, for everything from banking to our grocery shopping, has raised our expectations of speedy responses and ease of doing business.

The bar has been set high by B2C industries, and these expectations are migrating to B2B. Responsiveness has become the way we define service. We want our questions answered and our problems solved quickly and efficiently.

By definition, responsiveness is the ability to act or respond quickly and effectively to a change or challenge. In the context of e-commerce, responsiveness is absolutely crucial to maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

There are many ways to be responsive to customers, but some of the most important include being available to answer questions and resolve issues in a timely manner, offering a wide range of payment options, and shipping orders quickly and efficiently.

Time and again, the research undertaken by nlightencx reveals that transforming the customer experience in this new normal requires a different approach – one that is more responsive, integrated, and customer led. Businesses must go above and beyond to stand out from the crowd. Those that do will reap the rewards in the form of repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.

Those who don’t will discover that “Poor service is no longer resolved in private through traditional call centres and email channels but laid bare on social media with far-reaching reputational consequences”, as the McKinsey report, “Social media as a service differentiator: How to win” puts it.

Are your suppliers as responsive as you are?

It is not only important for businesses to be responsive to their customers, but also to their partners and suppliers. If a company is unresponsive to its partners and suppliers, this will cause a ripple effect that will negatively impact the business as a whole. And your suppliers are a vital part of your value chain, whether they be a tech partner, an outsourced service supplier, couriers or other delivery company.

Your own company can be exceptionally responsive, but if your suppliers aren’t it is your business that will lose. So consider how you onboard your suppliers. Set KPIs and ensure they understand your expectations and commit to meeting them. When you measure customer satisfaction, it is vital to include questions around responsiveness. If a supplier is at fault, hold them responsible. Measuring feedback and performance on a regular basis also creates a cycle of continuous improvement and responsiveness to changing needs.

There are a few different ways to measure responsiveness. One way is to track the time it takes for a company to respond to customer inquiries. Another way is to track the number of customer inquiries that a company resolves. By tracking these metrics, you can get a good sense of how responsive a company is to its customers.

The more responsive you are, the more business you’ll get.

Customers today expect a high level of customer service, and if you can provide that, you’ll be ahead of the competition. Being responsive shows that you care about your customers and their experience with your company. It builds trust and loyalty, two essential ingredients for success.

Why Financial Services is still lagging in CX

Why Financial Services CX is still lagging

Blogpost by Nathalie Schooling

We recently conducted a nationwide survey with executives in the B2B, B2C, and B2B2C Financial Services space. Like all our research projects, we wanted to find out from the sector, how their businesses rate from a CX perspective. In undertaking this research, there were a few things that stood out to me: reasons for the very obvious lagging of this sector in customer experience.

It’s not that the sector isn’t ‘awake’ to CX, it is. This is evident not only in the survey responses, but in the CX efforts we are seeing across the industry. The key problem however is that despite efforts, there seems to be a fundamental lack of efficient CX re-design, brought about by a plethora of challenges or obstacles the sector is facing.

You see, it’s not enough in the age of digitisation, to ‘think’ you know what your customer wants or to merely automate and digitise services. Quality CX today requires a business to be intuitive, predict their customer’s problems, and solve them ahead of time. Essentially, CX is evolving into an intelligent design revolution, and those who are able to play in this space will find themselves ahead of the curve.

For example, one such Financial Services company making intelligent CX design choices is Nedbank Private Wealth. Their Digital when you want it. Human when you need it promise, is a testament to their commitment to meeting the customer where they are at, not where they think they’re at. Further evidenced by their immersive digital platforms, is the financial groups’ clear understanding that humans can never be replaced by advancing technology. It’s this sensibility that informs and drives the agile design of their CX processes and keeps them at the top of their game.

But what are the obstacles holding a lot of the sector back from achieving smart CX-redesign? Below we unpack some of our survey findings and look at the obstacles influencing CX progression in this sector: 

COVID-19 recovery, price hikes, and inflation; according to our survey respondents, the financial sector is feeling the pressure post-COVID, to continuously reassure customers currently and offer extensive support. To achieve this, they are needing to accelerate digital strategies, and this ‘pressure’ to digitally transform is resulting in a lot of knee-jerk reactions that lead to underdeveloped CX strategies.

Staying on top of clients’ expectations: 50% of respondents noticed a sizable change in their customers’ expectations, with digital ease and functionality listed as the most significant change in customers’ demands. They reported the need to gain a more thorough understanding of the customer’s end-to-end goals and highlighted their concern around access to real-time client data.

Push back from those at the top who rely on legacy IT systems: for many, CX is still considered to be in its infancy and is not prioritised across all departments or driven from the top down. This was a huge concern for the majority of respondents, who cited the necessity for redesigning business processes to suit current digital interactions, instead of relying on legacy systems.  

Remote working: over and above the concern around faster digitisation, remote management was highlighted as a resounding obstacle for our respondents. It was found to be the biggest COVID-19-related challenge with the most direct impact on CX strategy and company growth.

Measurement: often considered the bugbear of CX by professionals, but arguably the most important CX element, 88% of survey respondents said they have some form of CX measurement metric in place to understand client/customer satisfaction. But only 50% said that it’s helping them to make CX improvements, i.e., they can get a basic understanding of customers’ needs, but getting beyond this point to implement changes is proving to be a challenge.

Follow-through and maintenance of CJM interventions: the majority of our respondents (81%) reported using Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) to review their CX and said they have seen the value and benefit this process has added to their business. However, the challenge they face is in getting company-wide and leadership buy-in to maintain consistent CJM and implementation of CX changes.

What these findings tell us is that there is still a long way to go before the South African Financial Services sector can compete in the CX space. We are seeing too many departmental factors across organisations hold back a company’s CX success. To address this setback, companies should consider companywide Financial Services CX training to embed a deep CX culture across all departments. Only once EVERYONE is on the same page, and when CX is driven from the top, can things like intelligent and effective CX re-design fall into place.


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