The value of human interaction: Why digital isn't always better
What does it take for brands to form long-lasting customer relationships in a world of short attention spans?
With a stream of information greeting consumers at a frenetic pace, marketers face the challenge of trying to engage with consumers in a digital-first environment that rewards short attention spans.
But the answer isn't just to throw more money at digital or mobile or social. Building a loyal following in today's omnichannel climate requires that brands get to know both their space and their audience on a more intimate level. Brands must understand what their consumer wants and successfully harness the right platforms to connect with them.
Experts say that the importance of human interaction should not be lost in today's tech-savvy world. While digital remains an important and growing channel, it's not necessarily and always better than plain-old human interaction.
Navigating the digital disconnect
As the digital transformation has unfolded, companies have been “feeding a seemingly insatiable appetite for digital capabilities” to try to build engagement and loyalty, Robert Wollan, Accenture Strategy’s senior managing director for advanced customer strategy, told Marketing Dive.
But now consumers are reminding them of “the importance of human interaction."
Accenture Strategy recently published a report on the disconnect that digital has caused in customer engagement, calling for companies to recalibrate their investments between traditional and emerging digital channels.
“We're finding that actually companies in the rush to add digital capabilities may have missed the mark because the most profitable customers we see across many industries — wireless, banking, retailing, for example — are actually multi-channel customers,” Wollan said.
These customers are using unpredictable combinations of channels (a mixture of human and digital) to get what they need from discovery and search to product transactions and customer service.
“The idea of leveraging human interaction in combination with digital is still the best business play,” Wollan said.
Why good human interactions are better than mediocre digital ones
People today are more complex and better informed than any previous generation, according to Robert Passikoff, founder and president of brand research consultancy Brand Keys.
People look to themselves before they look to brands, he said. The world moves at the speed of the consumer and consumers want human interactions, so brands thinking solely in digital terms won’t cut it. What brands have to do to build a cult following today “is take ownership of the values that engage people in their category, meet their expectations."
Even digitally native consumers crave personal communications. The problem brands have when trying to establish a loyal following today, Accenture's Wollan said, is that there is a general over-reliance on digital technologies, which has given a rise to what Accenture refers to as “humanless customer services.”
“You give them an app, make the phone number disappear, basically outsource the work to the customer, and we’re seeing a bit of a backlash,” he said.
In fact, 83% of consumers said they prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer service issues. Meanwhile, 52% of consumers actually switched brands last year due to a bad service experience, the report revealed.
“What we call the ‘switching economy’ adds up to a stunning $1.6 trillion in the U.S. this year alone from consumers trading one provider for another,” Wollan explained. “It presents a massive opportunity and a massive risk.”
Every interaction consumers have with brands is a form of customer experience that, if approached correctly, can boost brand awareness and engagement. Whether it’s getting advice from a sponsored blog post or receiving a personalized offer via email, brands that find smart and meaningful ways to connect with consumers on- and offline will see the benefits.
But it’s not that companies aren’t investing or spending time on building out omnichannel content strategies. “They’re simply not keeping up with customer expectations,” Wollan said.
That’s a problem, especially as expectations rise rapidly and are transferred from one industry to another. Consumers have no problem holding an insurance provider to the same standard of transparency and speed as a package delivery company, Wollan explained.
“Consumers will sniff out very quickly that a mediocre digital interaction is not better than human interaction,” he said.