The need to (re)consider the technology and human balance in customer experience


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We’re currently at that time of year where many firms, large and small, are starting to make plans and set budgets for what they are going to do over the course of 2017.

As such, we are in the midst of conference season and many firms are looking for ideas and inspiration on how they can develop and improve their strategy for the coming year. I’ve been lucky enough to have spoken at a few of these conferences and have attended a few more. At them, however, much of the agenda and talk has been about digitisation and the increased use of new techniques and technologies including predictive analytics, programmatic marketing, personalisation, robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) and how firms can use them to both improve and personalise their customer experience.

Now, many of the possibilities that are being discussed are very interesting and exciting. But, I’ve been struck but how little is being said about the human role and how it fits into this fast evolving world of high-tech customer experience.

This is despite the fact that customers continue to report that they value the human touch or that they are regularly frustrated by their inability to speak to a real person when they encounter a problem that needs resolving.

So, is there a disconnect emerging between what customers want and what companies are delivering? And, are companies, when faced with designing a compelling customer experience, defaulting to digital or technology-only solutions?

If so, there is a risk that many of them will continue to invest heavily in new technology but, in doing so, may only succeed in driving a wedge between them and their customers.

My concerns are backed up by a new research report from Accenture where they suggest that many firms will need to consider how they rebalance and redefine the balance of technology and human involvement in customer experience over the coming year.

The report goes on to say that:

  • Companies have placed too much reliance on digital technologies in recent years and this has resulted in the development of ‘human-less’ customer services;
  • The ability for a customer to interact with another human being is a vital part of customer satisfaction, even in the ‘digital age’; and
  • Companies need to develop experiences that allow their customers to easily move between digital and human interactions so that they can get the experience and service they want.

This might be hard for many companies to hear, given their investments in digital and other new technologies, and will have profound economic and organisational implications for some.

But, it is a conversation and set of considerations that many, if not all, firms will have to address if they are to continue to compete and deliver the customer experience that their customers want.

This post was originally published on my column here.
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks Flickr via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. Great post, Adrian. I was speaking at a CIO conference on this very subject–high tech with high touch. A few minutes of Q&A followed my keynote and the CIO of a very large bank asked: “How can we maximize efficiency and reduce expenses by minimizing the customer’s involvement in our call center?” I was a bit surprised and asked a follow-up question: “Are you asking ‘how do we take service out of customer service?'” He answered bluntly, “Frankly, we’d like to take the customer out as well!” The audience laughed but recognized it as a search to taking pricey high touch out of more efficient high tech.

    The sad part is the overall loss of purpose. Peter Drucker declared the purpose of an organization was to create a customer. Do we add customers by turning all relationships into mechanical transactions as emotionally engaging as an ATM or an elevator? Granted, there are encounters as customers we prefer be without emotional engagement. Yet, to paint all customer encounters with the high tech brush makes as little sense as the opposite. Examine organizations renowned for being customer-centric and high touch will be properly balanced with high touch.

  2. I’m one of those who believe that keeping the balance between human touch and available technology is absolutely essential so that the emotional component of customer experience comes through.. We’re seeing the balancing act play out in key industries like retail and banking, where rapid digitization has caused many banking companies to be in competition with fintech organizations, which offer little to no opportunity for human interaction.

  3. I think a more relevant way to frame the problem is for executives to ask how to produce the results customers want, and not how to ‘balance’ automation with the ‘human touch.’ The assumption many people make is that people want a human in the customer service interaction. But the Accenture survey results are enigmatic. Are people asking for ‘human interaction’ because the automated systems they’re forced to use are woefully inadequate, and a conversation with a person seems the best way to short-cut to a solution? I have felt this MANY times. Or, are survey respondents suggesting people-not-technology because there’s a ‘fixed’ amount of person-to-person conversation needed to sustain minimally acceptable results? If so, what is that amount, and how, when, and where should it be delivered? And in which customer service situations? Everything? Only for repeat problems? This is all unclear to me.

    Counter to the idea that more human customer service involvement is desirable are the findings that 73% of customers surveyed want easier and more convenient service, and that 61% want faster service. When correctly designed and implemented, doesn’t automation hold great promise for providing those capabilities?

    The question that most needs to be answered is “how do we provide customers the results and experiences that they want and value?” If the answer requires two people talking to one another, then a blend of technology and human interaction is most likely the right choice.


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