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Best Face Forward: Chapter 6, Putting the Amalgam of People and Machines to Work

In sample Chapter 6, "Putting the Amalgam of People and Machines to Work" from Best Face Forward: How Companies Must Improve Their Service Interfaces with Customers, authors Jeffrey F. Rayport and Bernard J. Jaworski discuss the face of tomorrow's mainstream service -- a hybrid of technology and people or hybrid interfaces. Learn how to leverage the strengths of your workers with technology to provide the best customer service.

As we have seen, people-dominant interfaces have long prevailed in traditional frontline services. But technological evolution and customer readiness among other factors are now enabling deployment of machine-dominant interfaces on the front lines of many businesses. Each approach has its strengths andweaknesses. People excel at conveying empathy and handling exceptions but are challenging to manage and costly to deploy and train, especially in large-scale service operations. Machines excel at processing information and performing rote or repetitive tasks but can depersonalize or homogenize interactions. In effect, the front offce needs machines to compensate for people's shortcomings and people to compensate for machines' shortcomings. @10063

That's why we believe that tomorrow's mainstream service interface will be hybrid -- one that creatively amalgamates the strengths of people and machines. In structuring such innovative interfaces, businesses will deploy two variants of the hybrid interface archetype: one where people operate in the foreground and are supported by machines, and one where machines operate in the foreground and are supported by people. We call these people-led and machine-led hybrid interfaces, respectively. Such hybrid models optimize the trade-offs between efficiency and effectiveness in customer interaction and relationship management. Of course, many hybrid interfaces will involve people in the foreground, enabled by machines in the background, enabled by still more people and machines. Even though such multilayer or multilevel interfaces may become commonplace, this chapter deals with the fundamental building blocks of complex interfaces -- the hybrid forms.

The reality of hybrid interfaces can seem by turns wildly innovative and yet comfortingly familiar. For example, many years ago, the MIT researcher, Steve Mann, tried living his life in constant communication with the world's knowledge networks. Beginning in 1982, before the laptop and Wi-Fi, Mann assembled a portable PC to wear on his back and a "heads-up" display over one eye, with a chorded keyboard in his pocket that enabled him to enter data and commands with one hand, and a wireless network that connected his equipment continuously to the Internet. If you began discussing an obscure subject with him, he might have little to say initially; but, after accessing data online, he could speak knowledgeably about your topic. Mann's latest wearable computing system, WearComp7, consists of a seemingly ordinary pair of sunglasses functioning as a heads-up display, connected to tiny electronic components hidden in his clothing that supply computing power, memory, and wireless connectivity.

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