T-Mobile whips out a new secret weapon for customer service: Humans

In a T-Mobile online video, actor Rainn Wilson demonstrates the value of human agents. It was only a matter of time before the oldest kind of customer service became the latest thing.

This week, telco T-Mobile is launching a new kind of intelligent customer service that counters the move toward better, smarter and AI-powered systems that seem almost human.

Instead, it is offering the original bot, humans.

Called the T-Mobile Team of Experts, this new strategy promises that customers won’t have to deal with phone menus or AI-powered bots unless they want to.

“Real customer service takes real people”, the company said in its announcement. “There are no robots or automated phone menus and no shouting ‘representative.’”

T-Mobile’s move is one of the most visible in what could be a building reaction to voice bots that don’t quite do the job (hello, American Express!) or phone menu trees that go on forever (we’re looking at you, Target!)

In a T-Mobile online video, actor Rainn Wilson demonstrates the value of human agents.

In other words, we may already be at the point where the coolest new intelligent tech is the oldest one we know: us.

“ ‘Your call is important to us’ are the six emptiest words ever robo-spoken”, T-Mobile John Legere said in a statement accompanying the announcement. He promised his company is “killing the phone menu and putting people at the center of customer care, like they should be.”

Of course, the agents will have access to intelligent systems that support its customer service, but the company is committing that no customer will be forced to communicate with a bot, IVR menu or other machine-generated communication.

The telco also says that it is moving away from Average Handle Time, the management technique that measures how long a given agent communicates with a call – the lower, the better. This means, T-Mobile noted, that customers are too frequently moved from one department’s agent to another, so it is promising that each of its agents can handle a variety of specialties.

In addition, T-Mobile is committing to 24/7 service, scheduled callbacks and asynchronous messaging via iMessage or the T-Mobile app. These techniques could avoid making customers endure long hold times, given that there will be a limit to the number of humans T-Mobile hires for customer service.

The company said it has been testing Team of Experts over the last years, and the results show an increase of 56 percent in the Net Promoter Score, which is the likelihood that a customer will recommend this service to someone else.

These days, virtually every brand recognizes that the quality of customer experience is a key differentiator, given the high quality of so many products and the one-click ease with which a customer can go to a competitor.

But irony will have to permanently retire if it turns out that, as AI-powered communication systems conduct an escalating battle to resemble humans, the most effective marketing strategy is to go with the real thing.

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