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Digitizing the Customer Experience: Determining the Right Balance of Man and Machine

Written by Solomon Radley

Digitizing Customer Experiences Requires a ‘Human Touch’

Written by Solomon Radley on Nov 11, 2019 11:00:16 AM

Customer Experience and Management

Digitization is one of the most popular customer experience (CX) optimization techniques. It involves taking analogue or manual customer interactions and replacing them with digitally assisted or automatic ones.

On the surface, this looks like a ‘no brainer’. Customers consistently say they want their interactions with brands to be fast and convenient. Digitization looks like it ticks all the right boxes.

Unfortunately, things are rarely that simple. While customers may be happy to complete interactions like downloading a piece of software completely digitally, providing a ‘human touch’ can be essential for reassuring customers when the stakes are higher.

“Data will tell you that everyone would like a faster solution and that they would like it to be deployed more cheaply,” says Lenovo Worldwide Director of CX Geriel Thornburg May. “But in the end, you can see that relationships are harmed by not attending to the human part of technology problems.”

The fact is, the value people place on the human elements of their interactions with a company can be hard to quantify. It’s not necessarily good enough to simply ask them what they want.

But CX leaders must discover which common customer interactions are fundamentally human-centered if they are to understand where the opportunities for digitization are in their organizations.

When to Explore ‘Digitally Assisted’ Experiences

Successful digitization hinges on correctly identifying what customers’ top priorities are at any given time when they interact with a brand.

When customers are concerned exclusively with speed and convenience, digitization will generally be the way to go. In fact, as more and more businesses digitize parts of their products or services, customers are coming to expect certain experiences to be digital.

“When you’re talking about millennials or Generation Z, they want to be able to self-help. They don’t want to be lining up in a queue waiting for someone to take their call” – Rami Sarabi, Global Customer Service Director, Tarte Cosmetics

But digitization doesn’t always mean automating humans out of the equation. When customers value the human element of a particular type of interaction, ‘digitally assisted’ experiences can be the way to go.

McKinsey illustrates this with the story of a chemical company that reimagined its ordering journey as a digital self-service portal, only to find that customers were skeptical about not having a relationship manager to call when things went wrong.

Following this discovery, the company tweaked the digital experience to give customers a choice between using the new portal or calling a relationship manager to assist with their orders.

“B2B customers are generally happy to use digital self-service for simple, routine actions like reordering to save time or be more flexible,” McKinsey’s consultants write. “Yet, when the interaction is new and complex or the stakes are high, most still prefer a real person.”

It will often be obvious that an interaction can be safely digitized, or else that it requires the kind of empathy that can only be provided by a human. But there are many borderline cases that are less clear cut.

Since poor customer experiences can have a serious effect on client relationships, businesses need a reliable way for determining what types of experience they should be providing in these cases.

The Art of Customer-Centric Experience Design

Customer journey mapping is a common technique that CX leaders use to design key experiences with the customer in mind. The process involves considering the different ways a customer may interact with a brand and the order they’ll typically do them in while attempting to achieve a goal. CX leaders can then assess the quality of the overall experience and identify potential areas for improvement.

“We use journey mapping a lot as a tool for problem solving at Lenovo,” says May. “If we find out that there is a theme or a pattern or sometimes even one case of a customer issue, we oftentimes get a cross functional group of people together to map out that customer journey.”

“[Customer journey mapping] helps the group to envision all the ways that a product may be used and how we can help guide the customer to be successful in the future” – Geriel Thornburg May, Worldwide Director of CX, Lenovo

Key ‘customer journeys’ to consider include the way customers identify products or services they need, how they select a particular brand or supplier, how they deal with unexpected events and their experience of using a product or service.

It’s important to consider the key touchpoints on the journey in question and use relevant metrics to assess the quality of experience they provide from the customer’s perspective. This analysis can then be combined with data about customer needs and expectations at each stage of the journey to identify potential improvement opportunities.

May adds: “We contact the customer or a representative group of customers to talk with us about specific parts of their journey and re-envision a journey that would be superior to what happened last time.”

“It contextualises the technology product within an environment and within a group of processes,” she continues. “It helps the group to envision all the ways that a product may be used and how we can help guide the customer to be successful in the future.”

This approach guards against the faulty assumptions organizations make about how customers experience their products or services.

Ultimately, CX optimization is about understanding customer behaviors. Digitization can be a win-win for brands and customers, but only when new digital products, services or experiences help customers to satisfy their needs more effectively.

Techniques like customer journey mapping can help organizations focus on what matters most to their customers as they seek out new ways to improve people’s lives through experience digitization.

This article is an extract from 2020 Customer Experience Agenda USA. For more exclusive insights from America's top CX leaders, click the image below now and download the full report.

2020 CX Agenda USA Cover Tile

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