Over the last two years, the COVID-19 crisis has motivated businesses all over the world to jump-start their digital transformations and find ways to better automate their customer experiences.
The result was a dramatically accelerated volume of e-commerce, online communications, and direct-to-consumer transactions, as companies everywhere engaged in a frantic effort to replace the human-to-human, face-to-face interactions that were suddenly no longer possible. And this rapid technological surge proved highly beneficial for most businesses, because the path to delivering an ever more frictionless customer experience involves, first and foremost, flawless automation – streamlining all the business processes so they can serve the needs of each customer, smoothly, routinely, and efficiently.
But as efficient as e-commerce and online interactions are, they cannot fully replace human-to-human, face-to-face exchanges. Any teacher could tell you this, because no matter how good the Zoom connection is, you still can’t engage very well with individual students. You can’t look a student in the eye, or read their body language, or gauge their enthusiasm. And the same limitations apply to a business seeking to better understand its human customers via online clicks and chatbot conversations.
Now that COVID-19 may finally be receding in importance, businesses need to think about how they can best “re-humanize” their customer experience. Yes, by all means we should continue automating and streamlining our routine and repeatable processes, and we shouldn’t let up on our efforts to eliminate any friction or obstacles in the customer’s path. But beyond friction, we should find ways to re-introduce human-to-human interactions, because many of the qualities our human employees bring to the business enable them to engage with customers in a uniquely human manner, and this kind of engagement cannot be automated.
Wisdom and judgment, creativity, empathy, sharing, community, purpose, common sense – all these uniquely human qualities represent vital assets for a business trying to maintain and improve its relationships with individual customers. The objective of re-humanizing our customer relationships should be to connect with each of them emotionally, one customer at a time.
Research has consistently shown that customer loyalty is not well correlated with customer satisfaction, although disloyalty does have a high correlation with dissatisfaction. This is why the first requirement in designing and delivering a high-quality customer experience is to make it entirely frictionless for the customer – an experience that will pose no obstacle and provide no reason for dissatisfaction.
Less well known, however, is that emotionally connected customers are even more valuable to a business than highly satisfied ones. According to one Harvard Business Review study, “On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.” And a study cited in Forbes found that “Companies that provide an emotional connection with customers outperform the sales growth of their competitors by 85%.”
So while removing friction in the customer experience is an indispensable first step, it is only the first step. Once your customer experience is relatively frictionless, connecting emotionally with your customer is the most effective way to improve the customer’s loyalty and patronage. In a post-COVID world, businesses need to provide their human workers with opportunities to make these kinds of connections – connections that would never be possible for a chatbot, an algorithm, or an AI-driven online interaction.
Naturally, this requires that your employees be engaged in their jobs and enthusiastic about interacting with customers. You want them to be motivated by a strong sense of purpose – and not just a purpose to improve sales or profits, but a purpose linked to some sort of overriding customer benefit. If your employees are truly engaged with such a sense of mission, then you won’t have to require them to connect more emotionally with the customers they serve; just let them.