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The CX balancing act: human experience vs digital technology

Digital technology is vital to be able to provide personalised customer experiences at scale and in a way that is economically viable. Yet, digital transformation can appear disconnected from human experiences and build barriers between customers and the brand.

We’ve seen the rise of chatbots, AI and increased automation matched with the rapid shift to all things digital in the last few years.  “When poorly designed”, comments Elisa Adams, CEO of Sprout, “These automated systems and channels can leave customers feeling frustrated and confused. From chatbots that fail to understand or properly register what the customer is saying to automated systems that require them to re-enter details, this failure to cater for the human perspective can have a detrimental impact on the customer experience.”

Elisa Adams, CEO
Sprout Strategy

Adams explains, “Customers expect to be treated with respect, flexibility and empathy – or in other words they expect to be treated as human beings. They also want to be understood as humans and have their feelings acknowledged and respected. Technology is very good at driving scale, efficiency and functionality but it can’t make intuitive decisions based on understanding people’s emotional needs and feelings.”

As the rate of digital transformation accelerates, there’s the risk that the needs and experiences of customers’ may be neglected. Ian Stokol, Head of Design Studio at Computershare, observes, “In the rush towards digital, there’s the risk of becoming obsessed with the latest bright and shiny thing. Organisations can fall into the trap of designing systems and processes around the capabilities of the technology rather the human needs of their customers.”

Michael Dart, CMO for Energy Queensland.

Michael Dart, CMO for Energy Queensland, adds, “There is such a flight to digital channels at the moment, because it’s the thing to do. And yes, technology can automate things and drive cost efficiencies across the business. But I believe you’re on the wrong path if your primary goal is to automate and digitalise everything for the sake of it. For successful CX and business outcomes, you need to engage with your customers, find out what’s working and not working and then come up with an omnichannel approach that bests suits the needs of your customers as well as your business.”

All transactions are based on satisfying human needs

Rather than focusing on the technology, Kate Brodie, Director Digital AI and CCAI, Optus, advises that the focus should always be on the customer and the experience they have when interacting with the brand, “It’s important when creating digital experiences that the focus remains on valuing the customer’s time and their intelligence while giving them confidence in the Brand’s product or service”.

Kate Brodie, DIrector Digital AI & CCAI, Optus

All transactions and communications whether they’re via the phone, in a retail store or on a website are connected to satisfying a human need or want. Technology is the means by which we enable those transactions and our communication channels to satisfy those needs and wants. Brodie comments, “Technology allows us to complement our people teams at scale to give customers faster, personalised, on-demand service with a focus on empathy while sourcing the best human possible when and where it creates more value”.

“For example”, says Brodie, “I can purchase my groceries with Uber in a couple of minutes, get a sense of confidence that my items are on their way by tracking the delivery and have a choice to interact with the human knocking on my door when it arrives”.

Stokol, identifies three dimensions that frame the type of interactions customers have with a brand. These dimensions vary depending on the different needs a customer may have at the moment of an interaction and determine the type of systems and processes required to meet those needs.  The three dimensions Stokol identifies, are:

  1. There’s the jobs or things that customers want to do themselves without any help. This first dimension entails giving people control over their choices when they are searching, investigating, making comparisons or ordering a product or service.  
  2. Then there’s the jobs or things where customers need help. They will reach out to someone to resolve enquiries or problems they may have as they make their purchase or when they use the item or service.
  3. Finally, there’s the things the customer has no control over. If a customer orders a pair of shoes, once the pair of shoes have been paid for, picked and packed and sent on its way, everything is now in the hands of a third party beyond the control or agency of the brand or the customer.

Technology has a role to play within the context of each of these dimensions, according to Stokol, to enable the satisfaction of a human need. The first dimension relies most on digital technology to provide customers with seamless digital experiences, while the second and third dimensions rely on technology that enables omnichannel experiences and communications. He says, “All transactions involve human need. It doesn’t matter whether it’s been scaled up and technology has become part of it or not. Whether its abstract or physical or visceral or whatever, there’s always some kind of human exchange going on”.

More significantly, we need technology to help us cope with an ever complex and interconnected world. On one hand the evolution of digital technology has contributed to this complexity, but on the other, this same technology is required to help humans manage the complex nature of our world and global economy.

Ian Stokol, CCXP, Head of Design Studio | Digital Foundry – Computershare

Stokol comments, “The world has become a very complex place. In the past, we use to make products locally and primarily served local markets. We now source and supply products as well as services all over the world, across multiple cultures, languages, time differences and complex supply chains. Eventually, technology of some sort, has to come into play to deal with that level of complexity”.

The challenge for organisations becomes how do they cost effectively reduce that complexity for customers. “There’s a certain point that no matter how well you design a system or a process there’s a certain amount of complexity you can’t design out of it, otherwise it will fail. Then the question is: how do organisations deal with that complexity? Do they push that onto customers or do they absorb that into the design of the system to reduce the impact of that complexity”, says Stokol,

Human centred design

Human-centered design is a problem solving approach in the development of solutions that need to be designed from the perspective of the humans who need to use them.  A humancentered design approach, in regards to CX, focuses on the needs of customers and understanding how they feel about interacting with a brand.

Brodie comments, “The importance of human connection will never go away for brands and it’s important that we know when and how to utilise our best assets. The key challenges we see in creating experiences that balance the customer’s needs, are investing in a CX-led, human-centered design approach to digital transformation, maturing technology and overcoming past experiences, as well as ensuring that you have the right talent.

“CX-led digital transformation with a defined customer goal, outcome and guiding principles is critical to ensuring the right balance of digital and human connection is met. We often hear people talk about engineers and data scientists when we talk about AI, but knowing how to apply AI, digital and automation to drive a positive impact for customers is just as important”, adds Brodie.

Involving customers in the design process can ensure new systems and channels are embraced and lead to successful outcomes for both the customer as well as the business.  As well as creating a design that meets the human need of a customer, the involvement strengthens the relationship a business has with its customers and increases their loyalty.

Dart says, “When we’re designing new things, we make sure that it’s not just us that are designing new tools, systems or process. We work hand in hand with our customers. We have a customer council that includes representatives from our customer segments and interest groups from across Queensland.  By involving these representatives in the design process, they then become our number one customer advocates and we get a much better outcome almost each and every time”.

Trust, Authenticity and emotional connection

When customers reach out to a business, the emotional awareness of the person they are dealing with, whether that’s face-to-face, over the phone, or via email, text or social media can make all the difference. Adams advises, “Only a human can pick up on emotions and adjust their messages accordingly – upselling to an engaged customer or calming an angry one. A great customer experience is fundamentally about emotional connection and satisfying a human need”.

According to Dart, regardless of whether it’s a digital channel, a contact centre or a written channel, it’s really important you have that authentic trust around those channels. He says, “Don’t just go to a digital channel because it’s the way to do business at the moment. Do it, if your customers want it and they are going to get a very authentic engagement with your people”.

 “We use a lot of channels in our business. We have our social media channels, our website, our contact centres as well as face-to-face channels. It’s not always a digital first approach but an omnichannel approach, so when our customers are dealing with us on a digital channel they get a very similar authentic interact as if they were talking on the telephone to us.”

“We make sure that the way we introduce ourselves to our customers is very transparent. If someone receives an automated response, we would be very clear about that and say this is an automated response, but, if required, we can get someone to talk to you”.

Brodie believes that digital automation and AI affords us the opportunity to bring to life the human touch in the right place, at the right time and in the moments that matter to customers.  She says, “Brands are using technology to enable more personalised, fast and effortless experiences for consumers with the ability to sell and service millions of people at the same time. Digital allows for creating much more meaningful moments once, and then scale the experience to many”.

Digital transformation is not just about direct experiences with customers but how you enable technology to empower employees to enjoy their work, save time and focus on building relationships with customers. “Understanding the current EX, the desired outcomes and applying technology to enhance collaboration, provide real-time personalised recommendations and guidance to staff, automating routine tasks and supporting real-time visibility of the workforce can all increase productivity and deliver great customer experiences”.

Michael Dart is speaking at the Customer Show in May

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.