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Customer Experience and the Human Touch

September 7, 2021


“Humans are inherently social,” declares Simon N. Young, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at McGill University in Montréal. “Given the importance of social interactions for humans, it is not surprising that most psychiatric disorders involve some disruption of normal social behavior.”[1] Over the past year-and-a-half, we have all experienced some level of disruption in our normal social behavior. For good reasons, social distancing has been stressed over social interaction; however, most of us long for a return to normalcy. As we struggle to find a way out of the pandemic, companies can help by ensuring their customer experience efforts include the human touch. Valerie Nechay, a Marketing Technology and customer experience (CX) observer at Iflexion, believes companies with the right perspective about customer experience will be the winners in the post-pandemic world. She writes, “Customer experience won’t help if it’s mostly regarded as coping with the aftermaths of bad service or retrospective learning from mistakes. If you want to reap visible results in the form of customer retention, loyalty, and, ultimately, sales, customer experience has to be replaced with customer care as its proactive, more human-like version.”[2]


The Pillars of Customer Care


As with most aspects of life, having the right perspective can make all the difference. Nechay’s suggestion that companies strive for better customer care rather than better customer experience or better customer service helps make a company more consumer-centric. However, it takes more than perspective to get things right. And there has never been a better time to step back and make changes. Technology and business writer Danielle Abril (@DanielleDigest) explains, “Companies across industries — from banking to cinemas to health care — all learned some tough lessons during the pandemic. Namely, they had to rethink how they do business and communicate with their customers at a time when they couldn’t physically see them as often or, in the case of movie theaters, have a product to offer them.”[3] As more physical contacts become possible, lessons learned during the pandemic are being baked into corporate DNA. As Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon’s consumer group, told participants of a webinar, “We’re never going back to where we were.”[4] Adding the human touch to lessons learned during the pandemic can only make things better for all stakeholders. Chris Tranquill, Chief of Strategy at Khoros, believes there are three pillars on which companies need to build to improve their customer care efforts: a consistent presence across all channels; understanding what your customers are feeling; and, enhancing customer experience with technology.[5]


1. Building a Consistent Presence for Your Customers Across All Channels. Tranquill notes, “Customers today use a variety of digital channels — messaging, social media, email, chat, and more — in their everyday life. The first step toward improving their experience is to identify the channels your customers use most frequently. … Once you’ve figured out which channels your customers prefer, integrate those channels into the care strategy you already use. Doing so not only helps maintain a consistent message and brand voice across all customer care interactions but also connects your customers with the experts at your company who can most efficiently handle their questions.” Being present also means being human. Tranquill observes, “A personal touch is always important in customer interactions. Don’t just meet customers where they are; make them feel that they’re talking to a real person who cares about them and understands their needs.”


2. Finding Out What Your Customers Are Feeling — And Why. Being present across all channels means having a digital presence and Tranquill insists, “Omnichannel analytics are indispensable for today’s care centers and marketing operations.” He explains, “Most companies already know that tracking customer sentiment is a good thing. People (and our purchasing decisions!) are often driven by emotion, so understanding that emotion is vital both to converting prospects and retaining customers. … Knowing that a customer is upset is important, but understanding the root cause of that sentiment allows you to resolve customer friction at its source before it results in an inbound contact. … Luckily, these days, you don’t have to gather such information manually. Advanced omnichannel analytics and deep listening software can help you track emotion on every channel your brand and customers use. It can even help you turn that data into actionable insights by figuring out the reason behind the emotion.”


3. Implementing AI and Machine-Learning to Enhance Positive Customer Experiences. There are no “regular work hours” for online operations. Consumers expect to get help 24/7 and are frustrated when they can’t. Realistically, the only way to provide 24/7 support is by leveraging technology. Tranquill insists, “Incorporating AI and machine-learning can drive even stronger relationships with your customers. We’ve all seen the horror stories of bot interactions gone wrong, but the reality is, there’s a lot of efficiency to be found when powerful tools get deployed in service of positive customer experiences. In fact, customers are often open to the use of AI if it’s helpful to them, but they also want a healthy mix of human and AI interaction.” In a follow-on article, I will discuss more fully the advantages technology can bring to the customer care arena.


The increased use of data and technology in the customer care arena may sound dehumanizing, but it doesn’t need to be. For example, Dunne insists, “Many of the [self-serve, technology] trends that started in the pandemic have changed business forever.” Nevertheless, he notes, Verizon is actually recruiting 1,000 more staffers for retail locations and extending the hours of operation. According to Dunne, the combination of humans and technology means “reinventing the customer experience.” If a company can’t afford to increase customer care personnel, Tranquill believes existing personnel can be empowered by technology. He explains, “[Technology solutions are] only as powerful as the humans who use them. But with the right digital-first mindset and the proper technology stack, companies can improve the customer experience without increasing service staff — and that’s exactly what consumers are coming to expect.”


Concluding Thoughts


Journalist Kayt Sukel (@kaytsukel) reports, “Aristotle once wrote, ‘Man is by nature a social animal.’ And while his statement, at the time, had more to do with the benefits of a civilized society than how the human brain may be wired, decades of research in the neuroscience realm has largely supported his thoughts on the matter.”[6] Humans love to connect — with each other and with companies. Sukel quotes Michael Platt, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, who insists, “Human beings are wired to connect — and we have the most complex and interesting social behavior out of all animals. This social behavior is a critical part of our adaptive toolkit. It allows us to come together and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own.” That is exactly how companies should perceive customer care, connecting (i.e., coming together) to do things we wouldn’t be able to on our own.


[1] Simon N. Young, “The neurobiology of human social behaviour: an important but neglected topic,” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, September 2008.
[2] Valerie Nechay, “Forget Customer Experience—Customer Care Is the New Way Forward,” Destination CRM, 11 May 2020.
[3] Danielle Abril, “Big companies are reinventing customer experience after the pandemic,” Fortune, 26 may 2021.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Chris Tranquill, “The Three Pillars of Positive Customer Experiences,” MarketingProfs, 29 June 2021.
[6] Kayt Sukel, “In Sync: How Humans are Hard-Wired for Social Relationships,” Dana Foundation, 13 November 2019.

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