Human interaction is an increasingly important factor in digital service design, a fact that is both surprising and completely predictable. In hindsight, who couldn’t have guessed that people might want to be treated, and communicated with, as humans?
The paradox that businesses and organisations face today is that as technology has enabled greater automated efficiency of customer engagements, customers are increasingly crying out for the option to deal with another human, should that be their preference.
Findings from a Verint global research study in October 2016 came up with some interesting statistics:
– 4 out of 5 people surveyed prefer human customer service interactions to remain a part of customer service
– More than 4 in 5 (83%) believe speaking with a person will always be an important part of the customer service mix
– 67% of consumers and 91%of businesses felt customer service online, and via mobile devices, needs to be faster and more intuitive to serve end users
This is sobering, as common success metrics for apps and websites has been ‘less phone calls’ or ‘less enquiries’, aspirations often addressed through labyrinthine Frequently Asked Questions sections.
The challenge then is one of humanising digital interactions, while ensuring that any direct human–to–human interactions are both qualified and of optimal quality.
Some of the most disruptive digital brands of the last 5 years have achieved their status simply by facilitating more meaningful human contact. By the time humans are speaking to each other, much of the initial friction has been removed and the dialogue comes much later in the sales process, to the benefit of consumers and the business.
In any number of circumstances, booking through AirBnB involves contact with the host of the property. What is often missed is that AirBnB disrupted an industry by marrying superior digital user experience with a system that defaults to human interactions where more technology wasn’t the answer.
The significance of this can’t be overstated. What AirBnB implemented is the polar opposite of what many businesses tried to achieve by collectively investing millions in technology to address challenges that may never have been suitable for full automation.
Certainly, reducing the number of needless calls and enquiries is a worthy goal. If customers can self–serve, and get greater value from the content available to them, then of course those reductions should be a natural by–product. We hear many (fully warranted) fanfares of the coming digital–only banks; yet when it comes to major life decisions – mortgages for example – research overwhelmingly tells us that customers want to talk to another person at key points in the process.
Some of the same companies that created obstacle courses for customers attempting to track down a phone number now find themselves counting the cost as those same customers head in their droves for social media channels either to contact the company directly, or worse, to vent their dissatisfaction publicly.
The rules of good customer experience align closely with the tenets of user–centred design, where the organisation does the hard work so that customers are required to do less.
Some years on, the consequences for that early digital imperative of “less phonecalls” are not only that the phone number be easily accessible, but that a human should be at the other end of it.
Customers don’t want to consider what might be going on behind the scenes in your business, or what way you have decided to manage or manipulate contacts with the company. Those who interact with your digital interfaces expect to be treated as humans – not an unreasonable request, and one that is fast becoming a differentiator for online businesses.
Customers assess a business holistically, and their perception is shaped by the quality of their experience regardless of whether their touchpoint is at a bricks and mortar branch, on the phone or online.
That assessment will be heavily influenced by how human they have been made to feel.