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Finding the right balance between human and digital interactions

Digital Interactions are being considered as the first step towards digital transformation. Also, at present, utilising technology to boost customer experience has gained tremendous value, making it mandatory for brands to incorporate one or more ways of interacting with customers over digital channels. 

Asking whether we can replace human interaction with digital ones may sound absurd today because we have digital interfaces everywhere to assist the customers round the clock and from anywhere. However, one question which is still valid is – to what extent can digital interaction replace human interaction? Just imagine being greeted by a robotic voice from the other hand when your concern requires human understanding. Of course, machine learning and artificial intelligence have lent a human touch even to digital interactions, but can we rely entirely on them? At the same time, employing a person or a team may not be economical 

So, what should be the best way of interaction with customers? Should businesses go fully digital or still go on with people interacting with people? Or better, is there a way of finding the right balance between human and digital interaction and create a win-win situation for your brand.

Let’s check out what industry experts have to say on the topic:

Digital Interaction and Human Interaction- Are They Separate?

If we analyze closely, then the most important thing to achieve great customer experience is to be there for your customers right when they need you. It may not always be possible for a human team to be active all the time and instantly connect with each customer individually. This is where digital assistants play a key role. They can manage the influx in one go and hence reassure the customers that someone is there addressing their concerns. That’s why, both ways are necessary to an impactful interaction. This is exactly what Adam Toporek explains here in detail. According to him integrated interaction is what businesses need today. 

Adam Toporek from customersthatstick  

“To find the balance between human and digital interactions, do not think of them as separate experiences but as integrated parts of a total experience. In my keynotes, I regularly talk about digital integration instead of digital transformation, because even as human interactions become less common, they are often still the most impactful parts of the customer experience

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, customer channel preference has to be monitored constantly to allocate resources among digital and human channels. However, if companies focus on using technology to make their human interactions smoother and if they focus on making their digital interactions more human, they can spend less time on balancing digital and human experiences and instead create a single, powerful, integrated experience.”

The Covid-19 Impact

With the pandemic hitting the world in most devastating manner, more and more businesses took digital route for serving their customers in safer way. Many companies found that turning digital helped them in discarding old and lengthy processes, thereby modernizing the way they interact with customers. 

Cymbio is one such example, where the company redefined its way of interacting with customers and even the means of providing the human touch to conversation. 

Jolene Amit from Cymbio

“COVID-19 further enhanced developments of digital interactions, particularly where manual processes were prevalent. When face-to-face commerce was not possible, consumers were forced to shift their buyer behavior to digital channels. 

With the changing economy and a surplus in online shopping –

brands require quick and timely retail integrations to get front and center, both in front of new customers and on new channels. Cymbio made this possible with drop ship and marketplace automation, supporting otherwise manual and lengthy processes- reinventing the way brands communicate with their customers and redefining the means of providing a human touch.”

But then there are cases, where human interaction still takes upper hand, even after Covid-19. In such scenario, companies have become smart and used methods that would equip technology to offer human interaction to its customers. Consolto took this different approach and made their customer experience strategy a bit unique in its own way. Ilan Harel described this approach in detail and what worked best for their brand during the Covid-19 phase. 

Ilan Harel from Consolto- 

“Over the past two decades, we’re increasingly seeing the business world go online. That’s why many organizations are looking for platforms that would help them to build real, long-term relationships with customers. Some organizations are trying to do this through bots. But bots will only take you so far because they’re impersonal… 

At Consolto, we’re taking an entirely different approach. We believe in authentic, personal human experiences — and when Covid-19 pushed businesses to work remotely, we all encountered that nothing’s more personal than video. 

Since Covid, we’re welcoming growing demand as customers are eager to talk face-to-face with service providers, especially in complex products and consulting services. According to research, 68% of customers are more likely to buy online from a business that offers convenient, human-based communication like video chat and live chat. 

We’re hearing more and more the need for stores to provide immediate responses in a personal manner as if they were welcoming their customers in a physical store. It’s also notable that the range of fields is very wide: ranging from real-estate brokers, fashion stores through car-dealerships all the way to insurance companies, law firms, and telehealth.

The world is turning digital faster than we imagine and most of the purchases can be done online. It’s those purchases that require consultation that will push customers to demand video-conferencing as their preferred CX.”

Pre-and-Post Covid-19 Effects

Ali Bagchehsara from GigHub feels that companies should evolve with the changing times.

“Companies in the crisis need to stop focusing on their before COVID business results – think in the shoes of their wider range of customers and their capabilities! Many businesses existed before COVID which we won’t need and gradually will die. 

Also the same applies to past COVID, there will be many businesses rising which we didn’t see the need before covid times like office interactions online software! Pivot is a strong tool and the will to pivot has to be stronger than your ego to succeed in these times. It is a simple formula, but hard to execute for many people because deploying ego is comfortable.” 

The Human Touch Is Important

Even when businesses are taking digital transformation seriously, they are still not underestimating the power of human touch. Brands lie Babin Business Consulting and Momentus place their best bet on human-interaction, but achieved in an evolved form.

Nicolas Babin from Babin Business Consulting- 

“The pandemic has brought a new way of doing business for all companies. Customer experiences have evolved. As most countries have been in lockdown, customers have not been able to interact with companies the way they were used to. They have contacted their favorite brands online and have changed the CX paradigm. Companies needed to transform themselves and use more and more chatbots for first interactions. 

However, many customers have not liked this change because some companies have not considered the right balance between human (what customers have been used to) and digital interactions. Human touch is important for a personal experience with the brand. Customers need to be given the option to override chatbots to speak directly to a customer service member. 

This option will empower customers and keep the human touch when needed. Chatbots are important because they allow companies to be more efficient and answer quickly regarding simple issues like; I have lost my password or I need to know where I can find the user’s guide for your product. Chatbots are making great progress and can answer most questions but customers want to feel empowered to decide how their journey to a product should be optimized. 

Like with any business, finding the right balance between optimal operations and customer satisfaction is key. Companies that understand and implement this, will win their customers’ loyalty.”

James Perryman from Momentus

Just because brands have been forced to ‘socially distance’ from their customers, doesn’t mean they have to give up on maintaining or even strengthening their connections with customers.

What does being ‘socially UNdistanced’ mean? It means we can communicate and interact using our words, how we make those words sound, and by using our body language.

Human interaction or the ‘human touch’ is a much more effective way of communicating, but digital interactions can still be very effective if used appropriately.

Brands should consider using video technology to engage with customers so that they maintain a ‘physical’ presence, as well as still communicating by phone, email, chat, letter, etc. With customers (and employees of brands) mainly working from home, there is an opportunity to get to know each other on a different level. 

Brands can learn more about their customers’ lives (as much as the customer wants to let them) which gives them better clues about the needs and expectations that need to be met. 

In this world we’re living in, these different digital communication channels still allow empathy to be demonstrated and trust to be gained/protected.

 Brands should be thinking two things – one, they still have existing ways of interacting with customers as they did 12 months ago; and two, they should be thinking ‘what is possible?’ rather than ‘this is impossible.”

Variety Is What Customers Look For-

Most often, it is believed that young generation is tech-savvy and will like digital interaction more than involving in a conversation with a person. However, this may not be true. Many young consumers want multiple ways of reaching out, so that if one does not work, they can take another route to get connected. Plus, it is not the young generation that comprises the customer-base. Technology is being used by people from all ages. It’s just that some may not be that much inclined towards technology. In such cases, it becomes mandatory for brands to offer multiple communicating channels. This is what brands like PwCRootStrap believe when it comes to balancing the human and digital interaction.

Melissa Drew from PwC

“Not every digital interaction will resonate the same or have the same engagement impact with all viewers. The right balance is stepping back to outline the digital channel available in your organization and compare it against audience roles, audience coverage, effectiveness, and ease of execution. Additionally, recognizing just because your audience is working/shopping mostly from one location (e.g. home), doesn’t mean you should continue to communicate in the same way every time. We all need a variety of ways to interact digitally for mental and visual stimulation. Exploring and utilizing new technologies will expand your audience, but it will also keep your existing audience engaged with you.”

Patrick Ward from RootStrap: 

“Getting the perfect balance between humans and technology is not easy, but if done right it can provide many benefits for CX. With emerging technologies such as machine learning, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, the tools are there to get this right, albeit a work in progress as it does present challenges, especially for the not-so-tech-inclined.”

Finding The Right Balance

Nicole Holt from Beehive Research gives a complete outline for finding the right balance between the human and digital interaction.

 “Without a doubt, the ability for a brand to meet face-to-face has diminished, but many brands had reduced that anyway. I see a polarisation in the market further: those that were not very good have got worse and just hidden behind the excuse of the pandemic.

A very simple test is to ask yourself whether you have experienced any of the following in the 12 months:

  1.  Visited a brand’s website but not found the answer?
  2.    Used the virtual assistant, waited for an age for a reply, or got nowhere?
  3.    Finally tracked down the ‘contact us’ number and made a call to be faced with a myriad of call routing questions, without the option you want; been directed back to the website, as that will be ‘quicker’; been kept on hold for 30 minutes only to give up, or find the operator cannot answer the question and passes you elsewhere, and another hold for 20 minutes?
  4. At the other end of the scale, some brands have seemed to cruise along like a swan: feet paddling hard but, on the surface, all is serene. FirstDirect is still a leading example. Also, brands that have truly adopted a digital transformation, are giving far better service, gaining more customers, and extending the gap between themselves and their competition.

It’s worth remembering that not all customers are the same; there are the digitally savvy, those who want personal communication, and some who really do not need or want any human interaction at all. However, what they all have in common is a desire to get a job done. Brands that enable the customer to achieve their objective easily and reduce the ‘effort’ of doing business with them, will be the most successful and have more loyal customers.

The right balance between human and digital interaction will be different across brands and industries; the important factor is focusing on helping a customer ‘get the job done with the least effort!”

The Core Still Remains The Same

According to Neal Topf from Callzilla and Ben Motteram of CXeprt, the fundamentals for customer experience are never going to change, no matter what. The key lies in the core values and balanced ecosystem of conversation-mechanism.

Neal Topf from Callzilla- 

“What will distinguish brands that are successful in the care of their customers that place experience as a leading indicator and core value versus those that don’t will be the delicately balanced ecosystem of conversational automation plus live agent. I believe that a live agent-only environment is either too cost-prohibitive or experience-poor given unacceptable wait times, poor training, company-induced silos, process gaps, and tech stack limitations, which all lead to the deficient voice of employee results.

 In contrast, environments that know how to reduce wait and process times through the use of automation and conversational intelligence and involve humans when the process breaks down or requires more complex involvement will lead to greater resolution and customer satisfaction. Since 1976, customer rages only continue to worsen.”

Motteram further adds that along with customer experience, businesses should also remember employee experience as the employees too make significant part of the business and play a major role in driving growth and sustainability. 

The fundamentals of customer experience never change: organizations need to understand their customers and then deliver an experience that meets their expectations. The difficult thing for organizations during a crisis is understanding what the impacts of that crisis are on their customers in terms of their needs, wants, behaviors, and expectations. If instant customer feedback can’t be obtained to inform the company’s actions, I would use the following principles to bridge the CX gap

 Don’t forget about EX – employees are going through the crisis as well and they’re the ones dealing with your customers each day. Support them so that they can deliver great CX;

Use the company values to guide your behavior and engage employees and customers; Put customers’ and employees’ needs above your own – the implications of what t they’re dealing with during a crisis is more important than the organization missing an arbitrary sales target; 

Be more flexible – hard and fast policies that made sense pre-crisis are no longer relevant;

Act transparently and communicate with purpose – both with customers and employees.”

Similar views are shared by Sayo Afolayan from Connex One, who believes that all stakeholders should be assembeled to fill in any immediate and emergency customer experience gaps and this includes expeditious teamwork as well.  

Expeditious teamwork with full representation across all stakeholders. Rapidly assemble all stakeholders (support/service, marketing, products, operations, etc.). All hands on deck.

Think swift and effective. Identify the immediate and emergency CX gaps or failures. The team then brainstorms corrective actions and implements them quickly. Stop the bleeding.

Evolve your CX strategy. Some reasons for poor CX are unsustainable processes, disjointed platforms, and abandoned initiatives that arise from quick-fix approaches. New customer tastes or sentiments should always result in an improved CX strategy with updated/modified short-term, middle-term, and long-term CX objectives and plans.

All in all, with so much transformation happening around industries and given the dynamicity of the market, the key lies in offering a seamless customer interaction- that could be digital or human or a confluence of both. At the end of the day, it is how efficiently you can resolve customer’s queries that matter the most and pushes the business towards achieving brand loyalty and a great customer experience.

Efrat Vulfsons

Efrat Vulfsons

Efrat Vulfsons is the CEO of PR Soprano and a publicist, parallel to her soprano opera singing career. Efrat holds a B.F.A from the Jerusalem Music Academy in Opera Performance.

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