Everyone wants to discover how to improve customer experience (CX). In the rush to do so, some companies have embraced heavily automated processes, and rightfully so. In the near future, it may be possible to approach a fully automated CX approach. But those that choose to do so need to remain focused on the most critical element of the customer experience – human touch.
Without a doubt, technology can elevate CX in gratifying ways by making it more convenient to complete transactions and hotel registrations, speed up bank loan approvals and enhance myriad other tasks. However, there are times when consumers simply want to talk to another human being. Perhaps the customer has a question about a specific item or service – or wants to set up a purchase return.
And, if a customer isn’t able to reach a human for help in resolving a concern or in answering a question, what do you think the customer will remember most about interacting with your company? That it took only two clicks to make an online purchase? That you sent them a customized coupon for items of interest? Sure, they’ll remember all that, but what will be foremost in their memory is that it was impossible to get a human being on the phone when they had a question or a problem. And, when that happens, you can easily guess the customer’s next move – to seek out a competitor that provides that human touch.
While emphasizing the need for human touch, no one is questioning the importance of automation in offering a gratifying customer experience. It’s just that focusing only on the technology and failing to acknowledge the need for human interaction is a mistake.
As much as customers want the convenience and speed of automated systems, they also demand a human connection. In a study by Longitude for Verizon, it was clear that human contact remains essential to interaction with a brand. “Just being unable to speak to a real person (34%) or to find a telephone number (21%) would prompt many consumers to switch” from a company that doesn’t provide them, the study says.
When interacting with a brand, no matter how much automation is involved, customers are making an emotional connection. That’s what influences the decision to buy a pair of shoes, a book, a car or just about anything else. And, yes, customers will be happy with the automation component of the experience because it allows them to complete tasks faster or switch between devices without having to start from scratch if they, say, start a purchase on a mobile app and complete it on a laptop. The Longitude study shows that customers are looking for the convenience of one-click experiences (40%), intuitive interfaces (38%) and seamless, multiplatform experiences (29%).
Even at physical sites, many customers are bound to embrace automated systems – self checkouts, tablets that allow them to look up information in a bookstore or order lunch at a fast-food restaurant or even robots that can direct them to the proper aisle.
Consumers not only are ready to embrace automation but also are starting to expect it. So it makes sense for organizations to automate much of the customer experience. For instance, work is under way in call centers to route calls automatically through voice recognition rather than making callers wade through multiple menus. Banks are investing in multichannel platforms to let customers switch seamlessly between devices to access accounts, and the hospitality industry is investing in automated check-ins and reservation confirmations.
It’s clear automation needs to play a central role in CX strategies, but organizations will achieve greater CX success if they recognize that technology is there to complement the human experience, not to completely replace it. Companies that understand this make it easy for customers to reach a human, instead of forcing them to navigate through multiple webpages to find a customer support phone number or email.
In fact, intelligent systems can actually play a key role in ensuring human contact when necessary. By picking up on a caller’s sentiment when interacting with a voice menu, for instance, an automated system can prompt an agent to get on the line with the customer to resolve an issue or answer a pressing question. Airlines can certainly benefit from such a system to help stressed passengers after their flights are canceled.
No matter how good a chatbot gets at holding a conversation, it cannot show empathy – and that’s what an organization needs to provide when a customer is stressed or unhappy. Beyond that, organizations can take proactive steps to maintain the human touch. Making a human available when a customer needs that contact is great but what about when the customer doesn’t ask for it? It’s still a great idea to have that option available should they change their mind.
Human touch vs. automation: The right balance
Learning how to successfully improve the customer experience is predicated on the need to find balance between helpful automation and the human experience. Responsive automated interfaces, multiplatform access and personalized services are all key components of a gratifying CX strategy, but if you want customers to stick to your brand, don’t ignore the human touch. Companies that strike the right balance between automation and human interaction are more likely to succeed in their customer experience efforts and build long-term customer relationships.
Learn more about winning the CX war in our study “Winning the CX War: The risks and rewards of next-generation CX”.