Keeping the human touch for customer experience in the digital age

The global health crisis is having a major impact on the way enterprises communicate with their customers. We are all using digital channels more and more, but due to lockdowns, many people are craving human connection. Others are struggling with seemingly complex touchpoints in the customer journey.

Although customer experience increasingly relies on digital, it still needs to be infused with the human touch. All relationships hinge on emotions, and those between customers and brands are no different. A crisis puts the strengths and weaknesses of a relationship under the microscope. And during these unprecedented times, customers are looking for genuine relationships with brands they find it easy to communicate with.

Customer behavior and expectations have changed due to the global health crisis. Organizations have rapidly adopted their service models accordingly. But, as PwC(1) outlines in a recent report, maintaining this human connection using data and analytics to provide personalized experiences can be seen as a real opportunity to build trust. It will be a critical ingredient in business recovery as COVID-19 vaccination programs are rolled out across the globe.

Making interactions more human

In a recent report, analyst firm IDC(2) has characterized the future of customers’ connections with brands as “an empathetic relationship between customers and brands, built on what the customer wants and how they want to be treated through the technology lens of awareness, engaging, learning and measuring.”

As IDC explains, customers want to be understood through their buying and customer service journey. It is this empathy, the analyst firm points out, that makes us human.

Efficiency has been top of the business agenda until now, notably in B2B. There has been a move to shift human interactions across to digital using artificial intelligence (AI), automation, SMS messaging, and social media. While more repetitive interactions can be automated, companies will still need to handle complex customer interactions. This is where the human touch is imperative.

Before an enterprise can do this, however, they must implement optimized and standardized processes that promptly provide customer service agents with the right advice. They don’t want to be struggling to find the best way to handle a service request.

Thinking outside the box

Good processes are the cornerstone of efficient customer service, and sometimes they require a complete redesign. Take chatbots, for example, which are regularly used to answer routine customer questions. Where chatbots so often go wrong is that they don’t fully answer the customers’ queries, leaving them frustrated. But why not use them for internal as opposed to external communications?

We have implemented a chat dialog service for a major bank that targets the needs of the customer service agent. If an agent gets a very specific question, such as insurance options on an electric bicycle, they can ask the chatbot for an almost instant answer. The bank has already seen major improvements in customer satisfaction. Customers now get fast and efficient service, instead of having to hold for 10 to 15 minutes, while an agent calls the central help desk to answer a complex query.

What many companies forget is that AI doesn’t understand everything from day one. It has to be trained. Companies need to start small and make sure customers get through to the right customer service channel to deal with a query quickly and easily. Much can be learned from the big online retail giants, such as Amazon, who are clever at guiding customers through the customer experience journey.

B2B can learn from B2C

Whether you are selling to a consumer or to another business, ultimately, there is a human connection. Many B2B companies, however, think that optimizing logistics, services and sales is the only way forward. These are the differentiators of the past; tomorrow, you will be judged on an enhanced customer experience.

B2B customers increasingly demand the quickest, most efficient and seamless way of doing business. Amazon has fine-tuned this with one-click buy and recommended items and has equally well applied this to its B2B services. The giant can do this because its processes have been optimized. B2B companies are coming out of an era where they optimized their operations and now need to go to the next level of competitiveness with customer experience. For sales to small businesses, for example, personalized recommendation solutions can be offered regardless of which channel a customer is using. These can be developed to create decision tools to guide customers to solutions that best suit their individual business.

By giving customers a great experience, they will buy more, stay loyal and be your best brand ambassadors.

Don’t get stuck in the self-service cycle

The uncertain times we now live in have brought empathy, trust and care to the fore. Digital touchpoints have increased in the customer journey, but what we have learned over the past months is that there needs to be a fine balance between human and digital-based interactions. Digital saves valuable time on some customer service processes and can assist in recommendation and decision making, but as of yet, it cannot completely replace a highly skilled, knowledgeable agent.

(1)PwC COVID-19 collaboration series: reimagining customer experience post-COVID-19 into recovery: 2020
(2)IDC: The Future of Customers and Consumers defined: 2020

Juliet Walker
Juliet Walker

Juliet Walker is the Head of Marketing for the International Business Division of Orange Business, driving growth and profitability for businesses around the world. She joined from the Globecast subsidiary where she was the Chief Marketing Officer. Juliet has a degree and PhD from the University of Cambridge and enjoys hiking and cycling with her family and a little bit of gardening in her spare time.