Fads and Fashions: Amara’s Law and the Technological Middle Ground
In our last post, we talked about looking at all aspects of your CX strategy to ensure you weren’t solving one problem only to introduce a bigger one. In summary, a possible ‘fix’ may not always work for all customers, so it’s important to understand which channels customers prefer, when, and why.
Something we believe is absolutely critical to keep top of mind as we adopt and adapt new technologies is “Amara’s Law”, named for US futurist, Roy Amara.
“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Amara’s Law is best illustrated by Gartner’s famous hype cycle of inflated expectations and the trough of disillusionment.
Cast your mind back to the 1960s visions of what life would be like in the 21st century: compared to the reality we actually live in, you can understand that a lot of the excitement surrounding emerging technologies can have us jumping much too far ahead in our imaginations. The result is a dangerous kind of disappointment in the capabilities of current technologies—such as chatbots, for example.
The problem with hype cycles
There are distinct disadvantages to this kind of hype-cycle thinking.
Firstly, by overestimating a technology’s short-term effects, we may be doing it a huge disservice (and ourselves as a result). We all have to crawl before we can walk, and it’s important not to give up too soon on an emerging technology, just because its complexities mean it evolves more slowly than we’d anticipated.
Secondly, by being too quick to dismiss it as “underperforming” technology in its earlier stages, we can fail to see or understand just how its development might influence the future. Remember the famous quote attributed to Bill Gates, when developing the first home computers, that “no one would ever need more than 64KB of RAM.” Ouch.
Even though we can (and should) set out with a specific objective in mind for a developing technology, we’ll never be able to envision every possible application or benefit it may have. Facebook started out simply as a way to connect Harvard’s students with one another. Today, it’s a leader in the phenomenon we call social media and has changed how we do business.
It’s all about managing expectations
It’s important to understand the impacts of Amara’s Law, and manage our customers’ expectations effectively so we can continue to deliver the standards of service they expect.
We need to tread carefully, and not overexpose our customers to new technologies, or introduce them too quickly. If we fail to take their needs and expectations into consideration, we risk introducing new problems that will only frustrate our customers more, and damage our reputations and relationships with them.
In his article “Chatbots were the next big thing: What happened?” technology journalist Justin Lee wrote of the chatbot hype cycle:
“Computers are good at being machines. They can index and search for data, crunch numbers, analyse opinions and condense that information.
Computers aren’t good at understanding human emotion. The state of Natural Language Processing (NLP) means they still don’t ‘get’ what we’re asking them, never mind how we feel.
That’s why it’s still impossible to imagine effective customer support, sales or marketing without the essential human touch: empathy and emotional intelligence.”
The safest way forward is to take the middle ground. By working to optimise your live service options, and balancing them with fit-for-purpose digital and self-service options, you’ll reduce the pressure on your staff without compromising your customer service standards.
Get the right CX and technology balance
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