March 28, 2023

Human experience vs. digitally enhanced experience

With 72% of marketing & CX practitioners reporting a surge in existing customers using online channels, the digital experience is undoubtedly more important than ever, but while most focus heavily on improving it constantly, many forget the importance of an equally good human experience. If the customer experience is overlooked in the digitisation process, the technology will no longer be fit for purpose. 

For example, when bot-based automation was first introduced to call centres, the transition was far from smooth. It was a good idea on paper because automation could free up call handlers and help customers get to the right department without re-explaining their queries. In practice, the technology proved to have many issues given that the bot struggled to understand the customers’ simple demands, causing frustration and, ultimately, being useless. 

As AI automation makes its way into all areas of customer experience, businesses need to make sure that digital convenience isn’t prioritised over human experience. 

What can go wrong with the digital customer experience?

New technologies are constantly emerging, and striving to become an innovative business leveraging these developments should be a goal for all leaders. Still, without a human-centric perspective, companies will lose more customers than they win. Among the main reasons are the following:

  • Customers feel they are being treated like a number or a sale causing disillusionment.
  • A lack of emotional connection fails to create a sense of loyalty.
  • Customer expectations aren’t met because customer service is technology-driven, not driven by what customers actually need.

In a nutshell, customer-centric businesses need to go above and beyond to operate with human-centricity. So, what does this mean in practice?

Examples of human experience meeting digital experience

Businesses can foster a human experience for customers that is enhanced by digitisation, taking advantage of technology without losing the responsiveness customers want. A few initiatives of this nature include intelligent automated support and omnichannel communication.  

1. Intelligent automated support

Considering that 90% of customers will spend more money if a business personalises the customer experience, AI shopping assistants hold a lot of potential. 

However, a nuance of the human experience is that people aren’t always rational and often don’t know what they want. Yet, many existing AI tools assume that humans are rational (and the same) and expect them to follow a linear path in asking for recommendations. An example is the logic sequencing technology used by the Shop app; an AI shopping assistant can learn about what an individual customer is looking for and make specific recommendations.

It is clear that as AI and machine learning develop, automation becomes more intelligent. Therefore, it can help customers with more complex questions by giving personalised and comprehensive answers, thus eliminating resistance in the buyer journey. 

Nonetheless, it must be augmented with human interaction to truly eliminate resistance in the buyer journey with today’s technology. 

2. Omni channel communication 

Communication is critical whether engaging with new leads, selling, or serving loyal customers. Giving customers options for how they want to communicate is vital. Customers expect to be able to reach businesses quickly through their format of preference. It is a business growth opportunity when leveraged fully because strong omnichannel strategies retain 89% of customers. In comparison, weak ones only keep 33%. 

A common mistake companies make is offering multiple channels for support that offer the same automated experience across all. An example is when companies provide an in-web chatbot and WhatsApp alongside the IVR call centre option. This gives the illusion they can meet customers where they are and communicate quickly, easily and according to their preferences. 

However, when all options offer automated answers, hard-coded to assume certain logic, the customer is left frustrated. This is particularly a challenge with chat-based options; consumers expect to be able to text and receive instantaneous replies just as they do with friends and family. 

The trick is building omni channel strategies to cater to the habits of different subgroups of a customer base and humanise the digital experience

Research has found that 69% of customers are happy to use chatbots for simple issues. Manage resistance by setting expectations at the outset. If you offer instant chat options, at minimum, allow for ad hoc human conversation and confirm reply timeframes. For queries that take longer to resolve, provide email notifications when they leave the site. 

To filter the volume of queries coming into chatbots or call centres, have a ‘FAQ’site ready or offer an ‘ask the community’ option where customers can crowdsource knowledge from other customers. You’ll be surprised at how many customers check the site for answers before they use the contact option. Updating the sites regularly through internal feedback loops on common queries should be a priority. 

3. Righting the wrongs 

What technology is capable of in this day and age is astounding. However, it cannot wholly replicate ‘real’ human experiences. So technology that is meant to make life easier can actually be a hindrance. For example, online shopping solves many problems. It allows customers to make purchases without leaving their homes. It eliminates location-based limitations such as maintaining stock in shops. 

Still, online shopping can be an obstacle. Customers can’t browse products in the same way. They can’t hold products in their hands or try them on, which is particularly difficult in the retail sector. This creates more problems because customers might buy a product that doesn’t fit their needs like they thought it would. Consequently, the customer experience is disrupted by having to return, refund, or replace the item, simultaneously becoming a high-cost burden for companies. 

Technology is being developed to bridge this gap. Reactive Reality offers the technology for virtual try-on to be added to online stores and apps. Another example is the ASOS Fit Assistant – which recommends product sizes based on user inputs and past purchases of different brands. The benefits of at-home shopping are maintained while the human experience of checking whether a product suits and fits them is introduced. 

We are in the age of industry 5.0, where technological capability is rapidly advancing and needs greater collaboration between humans and machines. Customer behaviour trends suggest that customers are happy to use self-service options. Yet, the interaction should be intuitive to their individual needs, preferences and feelings. As businesses embrace human-centricity, technology will be the foundation of delivering a personalised customer experience on a large scale. 

No matter how advanced AI, ML and other emerging technologies become, nothing will override the power of the human touch.

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