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Let's get real: Why "in person" interactions now matter more than ever

During the COVID-19 crisis, customers' time spent online has grown tremendously. Does succeeding at all things 'digital' guarantee the perfect customer experience?

With fewer ‘in person’ touch points, each interaction now matters so much more.

It’s no secret that the world is moving online. Over the last decades, our digital life has become inextricably intertwined with what we do ‘in real life’. Now, as we navigate our way through a global pandemic, UK adults are spending a daily average of 33 more minutes online than in September 2019. The range of things we are willing to experience virtually has exploded. Purchasing groceries, completing education, accessing healthcare, meeting with colleagues – even going to the zoo or seeing a play – have become ‘normal’ activities online. According to the “COVID-19 and E-commerce” study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “more than half of the survey’s respondents now shop online more frequently and rely on the internet more for news, health-related information and digital entertainment” and it is a trend that is expected to continue.

This shift has prompted more businesses to focus on creating stunning digital experiences for their customers. As many as 65% of customers consider their experience on the website or app to be a ‘very important’ factor in their willingness to recommend a brand. Businesses now recognise that each digital touchpoint they have with customers creates an opportunity for relationship-building. Regardless of whether a digital interaction takes places via targeted advertisements, recommendations based on browsing behaviour or a web chat feature, marketing experts should consider how it can be used to solidify an individual’s connection to the brand.

 

As companies shift their focus to optimising their customers’ online experience, they are beginning to neglect another critical channel they have with people: the human, physical experience

Even as the habits of consumers increasingly become digital, only 29% of retail sales were made online in the UK in July 2020, which underscores the importance of customer journeys that include both physical and digital experiences. Importantly, it is the human touch points that COVID-19, for obvious reasons, has impacted most. Across the globe, people have been starved of real-life experiences, and forced to spend their time behind a computer screen. It is therefore no surprise that the moment lockdown restrictions were lifted in many countries, vast queues appeared outside shops, including many of those which had perfectly good e-commerce and digital offerings. As we begin to settle into this new pattern of life, a trip to the shops, or even a business meeting with a supplier, is now a significant event in the diary. With fewer ‘in person’ touch points, each interaction now matters so much more.

Take personalisation, for example. A personalised experience is something that customers now expect – not only online, but in every interaction they have with a business. One of the critical elements of personalisation is gathering, managing and synthesising customer data. Too often, companies assume they know what their customers want by overlaying the personal preferences of people in the firm on a customer journey. Providing customers with a way to provide their feedback, as well as analysing how people interact with the brand online and in person provides crucial customer insight. Although brands claim to value customer feedback, a recent survey has found that only 25% of consumers “fill out a survey to tell companies when they’ve had a negative experience.” The same survey reports 68.7% of UK consumers don’t believe satisfaction surveys result in improved customer service, mainly because they do not receive a response to their feedback.

It takes people to provide a human touch

Creating a positive, memorable in-person customer experience shouldn’t stop at improving feedback mechanisms, customer data, segmentation and enabling digital touchpoints. We have seen, and experienced, the natural need for social connection as COVID-19 restrictions limited our ability to have face-to-face contact with others. As we return once more to lockdown, people are craving human interaction, making it more important than ever to train and empower the staff who connect with customers. A brand loyalty study found that the people give more weight to personal feelings than information when rating a brand. If a positive emotional connection is made, 92% of people are more likely to stay loyal to the brand and 88% are more likely to spend more. Providing interpersonal and relationship-building skills to staff will help them build relationships, drive sales and encourage loyalty. It is also important to hire and train people based on their channel-specific skills. Someone who is brilliant with social media may not be as savvy at face-to-face interactions with customers.

The pandemic has heightened our need for human interaction. If companies create omnichannel marketing strategies that provide both the personalisation they expect and the emotional connection they desire, they are more likely to drive both sales and brand advocacy. Providing a human touch, which includes both listening and responding to feedback, should be viewed as a non-negotiable element of every customer journey.

Katie Kelly

Consultant
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Katie Kelly

Consultant

Katie is a passionate and dynamic Business Transformation leader who is obsessed with the human side of change and continuous improvement. Katie is a Management Consultant at Oaklin and has successfully led numerous change management workstreams for largely technology centred Transformations across a breadth of industries both as an external consultant and through change management lead roles internally.


Katie has focussed her people change expertise recently by digitising the end-to-end customer journey at a financial services organisation as well as improving the end-end-customer journey at a global aerospace manufacturer during the pandemic.


Katie also sits on the CMI London Board. Katie is passionate about ensuring traditionally under-represented groups have a voice and support network in the workplace, particularly in industries and functions where challenge of workforce diversification may be further compounded, such as Digital and Technology.

Bibliography:

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/internet-and-on-demand-research/online-nation
https://unctad.org/news/covid-19-has-changed-online-shopping-forever-survey-shows
https://www.qualtrics.com/uk/experience-management/customer/digital-cx/
https://www.statista.com/statistics/280655/proportion-of-retail-sales-made-online-great-britain-by-retail-sector/
https://www.cgsinc.com/sites/default/files/CGS_CustomerServiceCrisis_Survey_2020.pdf
https://www.forrester.com/report/The+US+Customer+Experience+Index+2018/-/E-RES142377