How to balance human and digital customer service

Customer engagement specialist Martin Hill-Wilson discusses the importance of striking a balance between online convenience and the human touch.

Digital Customer Service - John Lewis Up2Drive

The more we adopt self-managed, digital channels which optimise our expectations for ‘always there’, real-time delivery, we are also rediscovering the expectation for human engagement when it matters. We are complex in our needs and so customer relationships are tricky in terms of striking the right balance.

Therefore, effective omni-channel design is an engagement experience that works in any given customer situation. Here’s one example.

Even though John Lewis is recognised for their online successes, they still keep their eyes focused on what matters to their customers. For instance, online sales grew by 17% in their latest financial year, with m-commerce up by 34%. However, they also spotted that their online sales go up in areas where they open a new shop. This is how John Lewis chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield explained the effect.

“Our results were very much a result of the effective combination of shops and online, demonstrated by the fact that more than three-quarters of our customers made a purchase from one of our shops.”

In other words, John Lewis customers recognise they want both convenience and the human touch.

Virtual assistants

In contrast to the desire to visit a store, Up2Drive – a division of BMW bank North America – had a different omni-channel design challenge. Their business is to provide loans to people looking to buy a new car.

Customer research had told them, loud and clear, that unlike previous generations, the idea of visiting dealerships multiple times during the research phase of their purchasing journey was widely disliked.

All research and decision making could be achieved online via review sites and social outreach. So the design challenge was how to influence that journey if the F2F (face-to-face) touch point was now off limits until the customer was finally ready to purchase?

Conversational-style intelligent assistance was their answer. A non intrusive, yet readily available way of gathering information needed by the customer. Unlike the less appealing format of FAQs, conversational-style engagement delivers a huge uptick in terms of engagement and satisfaction.

AI-powered smartness to recognise context, intent and then personalise answers is close enough to a F2F experience to satisfy most customers when the task at hand is non emotional and relatively simple. Customer feedback raved about the service, relative to going to a dealership.

In both examples, a balance between online convenience and the human touch was achieved in quite different ways yet both managed to satisfy the customer situation.

How to design effective omni-channel experiences

Bearing in mind our definition that ‘an effective omni-channel design is an engagement experience that works in any given customer situation’, we have to consider three inputs.

  • The degree of digital behaviour a customer is likely to adopt in how they want to engage
  • The type of customer journey and the challenges this throws up for the customer
  • The relative strengths and weaknesses of the voice, text and video channels at your disposal that match the type of digital profile and journey.

Martin will explore each of these factors in detail in a subsequent article.

This is an edited version of a blog post that was originally published on Brainfood, the customer engagement specialist consultancy run by Martin Hill-Wilson.

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