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The Great Re-engagement

Go digital for the right reasons

Technology can work to create more seamless human interactions and build stronger emotional connections.

Customers’ expectations are on the rise when it comes to how they interact with brands. The pandemic forced brands to accelerate their use of digital channels to meet these needs—a trend that is here to stay.

But for all that the “digital front door” provides, in the end customers just want their problems solved and to feel valued. We conducted a recent quick LinkedIn poll and found that 50% of respondents value a “quick resolution” most in a good customer experience, followed by empathetic employees at 27%. Digital channel availability trailed with 14%, followed by personalization at 9%.

This poll illustrates that using technology to solve customer challenges is only half the battle. Customers don’t care how you solve their problems, as long as their problems get solved. Sometimes that includes fast digital tools like chatbots and in-app messaging. Sometimes it’s a person who can help customers navigate issues and questions. Consider these examples:

During the holiday season, a friend used a mobile app to keep track of when a popular video game system was in stock at top stores. She was able to buy one online thanks to automated text updates from a bot that curated inventory levels across numerous sites. No person could do that manually and it saved her from traveling from store to store or from site to site. It’s a great example of how technology can improve a customer’s experience.

Meanwhile, when I was going to miss a flight and it was too late to cancel, the gate agent called me directly right before the flight to ask about giving his seat away, but also asked, “are you ok?” This floored me, since I didn’t expect such a nice personal gesture during a process-driven interaction. One simple question, from one person to another, solidified my loyalty to that airline.

On the surface, these are two completely different interactions – one digital-first, one human-centered. But at their core they both create positive, memorable experiences. They are more alike than they are different. Here are some reasons why:

  • They put customers first, meeting their needs and treating them as valued partners
  • They remove obstacles to achieving the customers’ goals
  • They value customers’ time by doing the legwork on behalf of the customer
  • They build customer trust by acting quickly with competence
  • They both use technology to personalize the experience for the custome

While the direct phone call isn’t as “sexy” as the app tool, I would argue it went further to engender loyalty because it evoked an emotional response with authentic, emotional outreach. Technology alone can’t do that.

But it’s not the old guard versus the new. Technology can work to create more seamless human interactions and make exciting things happen. In the airline example, the gate agent had the right information quickly available about my friend to call him to check in about his seat and well-being. Behind-the-scenes employee-facing technology was critical to enabling the interaction. The gate agent was also likely trained on how to lead with empathy and was empowered to be personal and authentic in the call with my friend.

Employees have more time to be real with customers when they don't have to look at 25 screens to find an answer, when the information needed is up to date, and when AI training can help build employee confidence in how to manage customer interactions. A great human-centered interaction is enabled by technology to put customers first, remove obstacles, resolve quickly, and be personal at scale.  

Be careful of a “digital first” approach to customer experience
When planning customer journeys or considering new investments in the customer experience, the technology should take a back seat to the intent of the experience. Too often, however, CX trends and predictions for 2022 consider only new technology. Nearly every list I read advises organizations to dive into technology around artificial intelligence (AI), automation, smart devices, and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) in the metaverse to improve the customer experience. Yes, those are important tools at a brand’s disposal, but they are not magic bullets. Instead, ask questions that get to resolving customer issues and evoking a positive emotional connection: 

  • Does the technology eliminate friction on the part of the customer?
  • Does the technology get to a resolution faster or more simply than previous efforts?
  • Do customers want to use the technology?
  • Is the technology more cost-efficient in the long run?
  • Can human employees use the technology to enhance how they interact with real customers? 

When brands use technology to resolve customer issues and make them feel valued, they can deliver amazing experiences. The result should always be a more valuable experience for brands and customers alike.