The future of business is digital.
Threats to incumbent businesses in every sector are digital.
Corporate investment and executive focus is about digital.

All these statements are true and we’d be foolish to pretend otherwise, so is this ABC news story about chatbot dissatisfaction just a reactionary complaint against inevitable change?

I believe not – there is something much more complex going on which doesn’t fit as neatly into the digital vision as many believe. What is that complexity? It’s us… humans.

Let’s look at this question from 3 perspectives:

1. What makes a great digital experience?
2. What are digital giants really doing? (There are far more people in the loop than you might think.)
3. Human digital – making the most of the diminishing chances you have to impress customers.

1. What makes a great digital experience? Human emotion and happiness are often missing.

Like any customer experience, any digital experience has to work on three levels for customers to love it; it has to bring that customer success, ease and happiness.

Success means simply that they can complete the thing they’re trying to do – buy the item, make a payment, answer a question.

Ease means that the effort needed to achieve their goals was reasonable in their minds – often that means very low effort, though sometimes for significant goals we humans get more satisfaction from a process that takes a few steps or a bit longer.

And happiness means that we feel good about the outcome – we love the result, we identify with the tribe, we feel recognised or appreciated.

Organisations are pretty good at building digital tools that lead to success. Most are good or getting better at reducing effort, and usually know how to measure it and improve. But very few understand emotion at all – what customers value, how they feel, and how to measure that or improve. Despite wealth of knowledge in CX and UX, the reality is that this still exists in pockets and true customer-centricity drives much less of the digital transformation agenda than it should.

2. What are digital giants really doing with human contact? – Not what you think!

No-one ever calls or visits Uber. Almost no-one ever calls Amazon. So, the logic runs, if they can be 100% or predominantly digital, why can’t we all?

But before we imagine all digital and tech giants behave this way, let’s look at some other examples. Apple has more service staff in its stores than any company I can think of, and a very effective contact centre. In other sectors, Wells Fargo was the US winner of the World Digital Bank Award last year, but is proud of their 6000 branches and prominent contact centres. They express this omni-channel approach by saying “end to end digitisation is essential to compete against disruptors”.

These second examples show something different is going on. Amazon sells very simple commodities, and Uber provides a platform to connect drivers and passengers. But Apple is different – they want a direct relationship with customers and they value customer loyalty across multiple complex products and services. They understand the value of human support in the digital experience, and have thrown enormous sums of money at it.

Ask yourself – which kind of organisation are you? If you’re in any way like Apple, with multiple products and services, and with value in long-term customer loyalty, then maybe this ABC story is getting at something important, in the recognition that humans will always have a place in the business model.

3. Human digital

Chatbots are likely to be a short-term fix. Clunky in themselves, they are teaching us heaps about AI and machine learning, and will be replaced in time by interfaces that humans will like to deal with. The trick is to understand this and build for the future, not think chatbots are an end game.

Whilst that evolution occurs, there are other human challenges that are not understood or ignored in digital transformations.

  • There’s only one channel (digital) but humans will help you navigate it. Like Apple, most organisations have customers who need help from time to time. They will call you, or visit you, or they will complain about you. Your contact centre or other service staff will navigate the same digital tools which your customers use, with greater expertise and greater levels of access and authority. We need to work out as part of the transformation where human contact is needed, preferred, and desirable.
  • The chances to impress customers and build relationships will diminish. Self-service digital tools will continue to improve, and fewer interactions with customers will be with people. This means you will have just a few chances when a customer wants to talk to you to do something special for that customer – resolve a complex query, sort out a problem, talk to them about their needs, show you care and anticipate something for them. Are you ready to make the most of those chances? Is your transactional contact centre or sales-focused retail outlet ready for this? Does your digital strategy recognise the human need? Apple does.

In summary – people have human needs. Emotional satisfaction is vital, and global leaders clearly understand this. Make sure your digital transformation is for real people and that you’re ready to take the few chances you will still have to build a human relationship.