Consumers are changing the way they interact with brands. While digital accessibility remains a major force in meeting customer needs, the human element of interacting with brands is proving to be more important than ever in order to capture and appeal to customers. Today, consumers can purchase, research and tweet anytime, anywhere about a brand or product, but that’s not enough. Now more than ever, retailers must find a way to create an experience that blends the need for digital with the customers’ desire for authentic, personalized human interaction.
While brands work to remain relevant through innovative technology, consumers still want the option to do things the old-fashioned way. In fact, according to a recent study from Accenture Strategy, 77% of surveyed individuals want human interaction when they need guidance. They may want to ask about clothing care or about upcoming sales. And when consumers are disappointed in their purchase or need more information about something they’d just bought, they’d much rather speak to a real person – 83% of US consumers want to speak to a knowledgeable human being when something goes wrong.
Companies need to invest in technology, but can’t forget that they need to feel accessible and personable. “It all comes down to choice for customers,” says Kurt Grossheim, COO of Synchrony Financial. “Different people want different things. Some people want to self-serve online – up to a certain degree of complexity. Others prefer to immediately seek human assistance. This ‘spectrum of comfort’ is what helps ensure a seamless integration of quality service, regardless of where a customer goes to seek that service.” Additionally, a recent study from Synchrony Financial shows that 73% of customers find it important to interact with a knowledgeable sales associate in order to ask questions and get advice on their purchase.*
* 2015 Synchrony Financial Major Purchase Study
The human component
Most humans are empathetic and curious – and they want that from the brands they’re loyal to. A satisfactory customer experience depends on how well a company can relate to a customer on an emotional level. To create memorable experiences, employees who are curious and have a genuine desire to assist the customers can set brands apart.
It’s rarely a perfect science, but finding the proper balance can lead to a loyal following and strong brand advocacy.
People are passionate about where they shop. Writer and business consultant Chris Malone, who, along with social psychologist Susan T Fiske, researched a variety of companies for their book, “The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products and Companies,” say consumers prefer companies in a way similar to how we feel about our friends. Their book breaks down a sample set of corporations into four quadrants, in a manner similar to the graphic below:
The four customer experiences
Success comes from respect
We all seek a positive customer experience, even if we have to pay for it. According to a recent study conducted by Synchrony Financial, more than half of shoppers are willing to pay a higher price for the customer experiences they value most.
Companies have figured out how to blend technology with human interaction. Malone ranks Amazon and Zappos in the top quadrant. “It’s not that technology is necessarily bad, but it tends to engineer out human contact,” says Malone. “Amazon and Zappos try to compensate for this by demonstrating their good intentions and goodwill with easy returns and free shipping both ways. They’ll also talk to you on the phone at any time of day about anything.”
As Grossheim points out, “digital technology is simply a tool to assist in the overall customer experience. It’s not THE customer experience. Let customers select their path: technology or human; ensuring both are available is crucial to creating satisfaction.”
Retailers that focus on the customer experience can help sustain customer loyalty over the long term, which can translate into increased spending over time. So, while finding the balance between technology and the human touch can be difficult, getting it right is well worth it.