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Are Robots better at Relationships?

September 22, 2010

Back from holiday and  back in the real world.

I had been day dreaming about what a wonderful time we had in Scotland; the beautiful the scenery; the wonderful people; the space, when I was catapulted back into a not so good memory through an email from a little robot. But it wasn’t the little robot it was the reminder how humans don’t always get it right.

On our fantastic trip, where I go to top up my feelings of calm and sense of perspective, there was one moment that disconnected me from those good feelings and catapulted me into annoyance and irritation and thoughts of  how it didn’t need to be like that. It led me to compare between two experiences; one where I was a valued customer and one where I felt I wasn’t. Interestingly, one of those relationships was with a robot….

The Humans *

During our first week of our holiday, a day with beautiful weather, we decided to take the children (girl – aged 8 and boy – almost 4) to a Farm Park. It promised to be a great day with lots for all of us to do; animals and areas to play (inside and out); something for everyone. The children were really looking forward to it (we had already put it off once , when rain called off play,) and it was the thing that they had chosen to do, through their before holiday online search. (Yes, like most children their age computers are intuitive tools.)  We  had a look at the site and saw it advertised as a great value day out for all the family.

So on the day, we paid our £35.00 and went in. Not too bad, we thought for whole day for a family, until we realised that many of the activities advertised cost extra when we were in there. At that point, there was a slight sense of irritation at having to have deep and meaningful converstaions with the pester power twins. And then it got worse from there……

The park was very well staffed and in fact you could describe them as having a plethora of staff. So there was no shortage of people who could help you or could provide some interaction with the customer. The problem was they just didn’t want to . The whole place was staffed with ‘disinterested teenagers’. Now, it isn’t the fact that they were teenagers that was the problem; it was that you as a customer felt that you were an intrusion and a pain. These young people had no sense of connection or pride in the company they worked for or any idea of that they were the outward face of the company and how their  interactions  affected the experience.  The bins weren’t emptied, the place was dirty, the queues were long.  And it wasn’t that there wasn’t enough staff  and  in some cases too many as they spent all their time talking to each other and ignoring the customers. The length of queues  were created by not serving the customer and chatting too each other. These staff were probably employed for the season (and probably season after season) and probably at minimum wage.  I don’t even think it was necessariy all the staff’s fault and I wondered how much the company had invested in making them feeling part of what they were trying to achieve and anticipating their needs so they could, in turn, anticipate the customer’s needs.

The Robots

Compare this then to the robots. Just before I went away, I ordered some customised cards from a company called ‘Moo’. I’d never heard about them before, they didn’t come by recommendation and I found them via an internet search. When looking at their website, I was impressed with how they had considered the perspective of their customers and had developed a proposition which was different and allowed the customer to develop something unique to them at a great price. Somehow, they had got something that felt creative, interactive and individual rather than the equivalent of ‘ you can have any colour you want as long as it is black’ of most online printing companies. They had got it just right at the same (if not better) competitive price. I selected my order through the intuitive website and it got better from there.  I then received my email from ‘Little Moo’  the print robot. Moo has thought it all the way through – how the customer might feel getting an automated response and what would it be like if they gave their computer a personality. It told me when I would expect my order and what to do if there were any problems.

“Remember, I’m just a bit of software. So, if you have any questions regarding your order please first read our Frequently Asked Questions (at X) and if you’re still not sure, contact customer services (who are real

people) at: (link given)

I then got an email telling me my order was in the post  –

” Hello,it’s Little MOO again. I thought you’d like to know, the following items from your order are now in the mail”

And then my order arrived, perfectly packaged, exactly as advertised (and slightly better than I expected) ahead of schedule.

Since then I have had several emails from ‘Moo’ – not too many, with the same friendly tone telling me more about the company.I feel like a valued customer, and hopefully without sounding too twee, I feel slightly fond of ‘Little Moo’ the print Robot.  Their company Logo is : ‘We love to Print’ and you feel like they do.

Basic Needs, Expectations and Adding Delight!


The difference between the two  may appear obvious and yes there is a fundamental difference in that one was a transaction and the other was an experience. However, ‘Moo’ turned the transaction into an experience and the Farm Park turned the experience into less than a transaction.  So what were the real differences? Both met my basic needs, but the Park didn’t meet my expectations of friendly service so I went away disappointed. ‘Moo’ more than met my expectations with quicker than advertised turn around, and then added delight through their creativity and creating a real connection with the customer.  When we do this, companies and organisations created the kind of presence in the world that helps them build business; building their reputation and a loyal customer base. And first, they need to start with their own employees. You can only get the kind of response you want if your staff are engaged and you are meeting their needs and expectations. Although, my interaction with ‘Moo’ is through a robot, I am left thinking that the people who work for that company love the job they do.

It’s a great question to ask yourself in whatever role or organisation you are in.

  • What do my customers want and expect?   And how do I add delight?

Remember, do all you can to get it right first. There is no point in adding delight if you don’t meet the basic needs or the customer’s expectations.

*By the way Real Humans in Scotland do get it right. Culzean Castle is fantastic and in particular Barry the Tour Guide, who got it just right. Anticipating the needs of children and adults alike, telling stories that interested both and kept even an almost four year old agog for almost an hour. It’s simple really – see it from the perspective of the customer, find out what they want and deliver it and if you can, add something special.

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