Is the drive to digitalisation removing the human touch?
Here’s how to create digital connections with real rewards.
Pressed for time? Check out our quick read.
Let’s be honest about digital customer experiences in the past: there’s very little that’s more irritating than dealing with robotic voices on the phone, or arguably even worse, being subjected to elevator muzak. And of course, you can’t rule out those spam calls which run automated messages. But there’s more: automated call menus; buggy self-checkout kiosks; mass email campaigns with faulty unsubscribe options; the list goes on (and it’s often more brand-damaging than brand building). Up until pretty recently, the majority of digital customer services haven’t lived up to their promise – but that’s changing fast. Customers today are buying experiences, not products. Your brand has to show what it stands for and create meaningful touchpoints for a hyper-personalised human touch.
Digitalisation has touched almost every service industry in 2020. From robot nurses at hospitals, through to trying on catwalk clothes digitally in a style game with benefits, using smart mirrors at home, or finding the perfect shade of lipstick or skin-matched make-up using Augmented Reality (AR). It has developed like wildfire, fuelled by the challenges of 2020. And as much as the digital dial has been turned up, the converse is true for human contact and for traditional shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.
Brands have responded with smart solutions, using next-gen tech acronyms like AI, VR and AR, and big data. Thanks to machine learning, AI-powered apps, and voice-powered assistants, you’ve got a digital arsenal that can answer most of your customer’s needs. Alexa and Siri won’t only help you with marketing and customer research, they can even help you recruit the right people. And they’re not the only helpful robots. There’s a new wave of chatbots concierges that don’t just live in textboxes. Samsung’s Neon offers ridiculously smart, next-gen ‘humanoids’ which can work as tutors, personal trainers, salespeople, influencers, newsreaders, and more. These futuristic helpers can be recruited to help your brand connect more meaningfully with your audiences.
Physical cash has taken a backseat this year with a rise in blockchain tech, cryptocurrency, and social media payment plans. Case in point: WhatsApp in Brazil has enabled digital payments. It doesn’t end there – you can also use digital tokens like VR Atoms, which have true value, and can upgrade your digital offering.
You can also book yourself into hotel rooms and flights, without speaking to a consultant. You can share or hire cars or bicycles without saying a word, or alternatively, manage your bank accounts with just the sound of your voice. Even your fridge can order more food when it senses your supplies are low or reaching their expiration date. The question is: does going the way of the robot have to mean a less personal customer experience? Or one that’s not as bespoke? Our answer: no. But that’s only if you follow our five guidelines and use the right partner.
1. Understand that the customer has never been more powerful.
Thanks to modern tech, consumers are more empowered, but they’re also inundated with information. They want help to filter out the brands they don’t want to use, and that’s where social recommendations play a massive role. Connected to this: self-help options. If you can provide tools that empower the customer to make their own decisions, they’ll be more satisfied.
2. Answer your customer’s needs first.
Having the slickest tech doesn’t mean much if your marketing strategy is one-dimensional, unsustainable, or if it doesn’t actually provide a beneficial service. Case in point: If your brand is getting the most engagement on Instagram, then you’ll need a bespoke strategy for that channel. Like for example, if you’re a restaurant or food brand, make sure customers can easily click and order those carefully-created picture-perfect meals on IG. Alternatively, if you want to combine influencer product recommendations with your traditional instore strategies to make sales, you can use interactive smart shelves.
This is where lessons from traditional experiential marketing are golden: these new digital experiences can kickstart conversations, generate word-of-mouth recommendations, PR and media exposure, and build relationships.
3. You can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Start by listening and getting to know your customers’ digital habits, and discovering what you should be measuring. This requires social listening tools and perhaps also setting up Google Alerts. And then you’ll need to draft new rules of customer engagement for these digital experiences – iterative ones. The evolution here would be to integrate machine learning and predictive analytics, which can help you manage resources better, and even foretell future potential growth. Best of all, it can also provide more personalisation for your customers, similar to the way Netflix and Amazon constantly tweak recommendations for you.
4. Amplify the touchpoints.
Going fully digital doesn’t mean you should lose your unique voice. If anything you’ll need to work harder at ‘humanising’ your brand. You need to think of fresh ways to offer omni-channel value and to overhaul your customer journey. Digital techniques can provide new experiences and help provide genuine sales service. For example, Lidl, the Irish supermarket chain, launched a WhatsApp chatbot to help customers find the best time with the shortest queues to do their shopping. Another example: Bose, the audio tech company, which launched the Noise-O-Meter app in a campaign that offered discounts on their latest noise-cancelling headphones based on how loud your office is. The louder your home office, the more of a discount you got.
The rule of thumb: use digital techniques to amplify what your brand does, and to create a remarkable experience at every touchpoint. And whatever you do, remain ‘human’.
5. Create real connections in a digital world.
Whether it’s digital or face-to-face, you need to create meaningful relationships with your customers. To do this, your brand needs to develop a community for your customers and show authentic empathy. This can’t be a short-term, reactionary move during this year, you need a long-term focus on earning brand love and customer trust. It must be intertwined in your brand’s reason for existence. Consumers love brands that act in more personal ways, even if you’re using digital methods. Brands that engage their customers at a human level build more profound knowledge, trust, and advocacy. Personal experience is more memorable and sharable than other forms of marketing.
There are a few different ways you can do this: by answering their needs, offering shared enjoyment, by providing a safe space to talk or to find help, or directly, by assisting them to connect to others. All of those steps help build a positive brand association, and more importantly, create more loyal customers. Social media is the most important tool for brands to use in this arena.
To sum up, the digitalisation of the customer experience offers plenty of benefits, both for brands and consumers. But it does need a helluva lot of smart, strategic brand positioning to create more meaningful, powerful customer experiences. Yes, it’s a challenge, but we can always help you with that. These experiences will then, in turn, move people to become real advocates of your brand. And this, in today’s digital world of connectivity, is what every brand should be striving for.
I'm an experienced marketer who has worked client and agency side in London, Dubai and Singapore. Agency-side, I've managed accounts for Heineken, Jack Daniels and Fever-Tree and worked for Dubai's leading sports retailer with brands like Nike, The North Face, and Timberland.