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How to Balance Technology and Humanity in Customer Experience (Thinks Out Loud Episode 378)

Man rating a business on his mobile phone to illustrate how to balance humanity and technology in customer experience

We live in a world increasingly run by robots. But your customers are still, last time I checked, human beings. They crave connection and a little basic understanding. While you won’t succeed by ignoring technology, you also won’t succeed if you ignore their humanity, particularly when it comes to providing a great customer experience.

So, how do you balance technology and humanity in customer experience? How do you use technology to reduce your costs while still creating human connection with your customers? And why does all this matter to your brand and your business? That’s the topic of this episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

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Transcript: How to Balance Technology and Humanity in Customer Experience (Thinks Out Loud Podcast Episode 378)

Well, hello again everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 378 of the Big Show, and thank you so much for tuning in. I very much appreciate it.

How to Win in a World Increasingly Run by Robots

I have been talking for the last couple of weeks basically about big trends in terms of artificial intelligence and in terms of customer experience and in terms of who speaks for your brand and being more human in a world that is increasingly run by robots. And somebody asked me the other day, how do you balance technology and humanity? In customer experience, how do you make that work?

That’s an incredibly important question. You know that I have said for years that customer experience is queen. It is critical to building a brand today. Today, it’s incredibly difficult to cut through the immense amount of content that exists out there. It is clear that it is harder and harder to reach new customers because as I’ve said in the past, gatekeepers gonna gate. And that — that gatekeepers are going to get between your and your customers — is why I believe customer experience is queen.

Revisiting Your Secret Sales Force

Your customers are your secret sales force. For those of you who have heard this before, please pardon the repetition. But as a refresher, let’s say you make a hundred sales per month. Now, I know for some of you, you’re going to do a hundred sales in a minute or an hour or a day or a week or a year. But let’s make this simple. You can work out the math for your own business easily enough.

So if you’re doing a hundred sales per month, that’s 1200 customers per year that you’re gaining. Those people have 200 friends and family and fans and followers on social media. That is a potential audience of 240,000 people, if they were to talk about the experience that they’d had with your brand. For good or for ill, right? That’s a enormous potential audience.

Now, obviously, not all of them are going to post about their experience with you. And obviously the social media sites aren’t going to let their entire audience see those messages. Again, gatekeepers gonna gate, that’s what they do. But let’s say that 1% of them post about their experience with you and that 5% of their audience ends up as one of your customers somewhere down the line. That represents a 10% lift in annual sales driven exclusively by the great customer experience that they received from you.

That isn’t going to change in an era of AI. It’s going to be a reality that customers are going to have a good experience with you or not, and they’re going to talk about it or not based on who they are and how they felt about that experience.

Sometimes that experience is going to be with people. Sometimes that experience is going to be with technology. You need to do both and you need to do both well.

Technology Can’t Answer This Question. Your Customers Will Tell You When You Got it Right

Artificial intelligence isn’t going to tell you what the right ratio between technology and humanity is either. It may help you analyze the data. In fact, I would expect it’s going to help you analyze the data. But this is a matter of human judgment and it probably always will be.

Technology Is Often the Right Answer

Now I want to be clear. You want technology. Anybody who’s listening to this and thinks I’m saying all experiences have to be with people, and only with people all, of the time, that’s not true. Technology helps you scale. It helps you address more customers more easily. It lowers your costs.

Your customers want technology too, at least some of the time. We have seen over the years that as more tools come into play, customers want to use them. There was research from McKinsey that shows B2B customers used to use about five channels less than a decade ago. They went to using about seven and a half channels in 2019. And they’re now using over 10 channels when making a purchase decision… because they want what they want.

Customers Want What They Want

The key here is remembering the "some of the time." That same research from McKinsey showed that customers choose among traditional channels, such as getting in touch with their salesperson, using remote human interactions like chat, and using digital self-serve about a third of the time each. The balance has been roughly the same for several years that they’ve been running the study because again, customers want what they want. Sometimes they don’t want to talk to you. Sometimes they very much do.

And if they have a bad experience in one of those channels, they may switch to another channel once or twice. But if they consistently have bad experiences in various channels, they’re going to switch to a different provider altogether for whatever it is you offer them.

I told the story a couple of weeks ago in the "Customer Experience is Cool" episode about a young homeowner who refinanced his mortgage because of the miserable mobile experience his prior lender offered. Think about how much effort goes into picking a mortgage company. Think about how much effort people spend on that specific decision and how it’s rarely a decision people take again and again and again. The average mortgage lifetime is about seven years in this country, so it’s not something people just switch automatically.

Great Customer Experiences With Anyone Raise the Bar for Everyone

But the best experience customers have with any company sets the bar higher for every company of what their experience ought to be like. If you’ve used things like Google Lens or you’ve used Bing’s AI Chat, or you’ve used Apple Pay in recent days and weeks and months and years, you start to go, "Wow, I just want to be able to point my camera at something and learn more information. Wow. I just want to be able to ask a question and get an answer. Wow, I just want to wave my phone in the air and walk out of the store."

And the next time they have to interact with your company, they’re going to ask the question, "Why can’t I just do that with you?" That is such a common behavior that we have seen for years and years and years. I don’t need lots of studies to show this. We see this with our clients constantly.

Now, there is research from HubSpot that shows that industry leaders are three times more likely than laggards to bring deep customer understanding into their experience. And to have digital customer experiences that are "exceptional and can surprise and delight customers." They get that people want these great experiences. And when I say leaders and laggards, I mean people who are doing well economically, doing well financially in their chosen industries. Three times more likely.

Laggards in that same study said that that, "Digital customer experience sometimes lags our customer’s needs" over 60% of the time. Can you imagine 60% of people saying, "Yeah, we sometimes lag our customer’s needs" and expecting to continue to do okay financially. That’s madness , right? You don’t need artificial intelligence. You need human intelligence to say, "Hey, maybe we should do something about that."

Balancing Humanity and Technology Is Not "Either/Or"

What you want to remember is that this is an not an either/or situation. You are looking to use technology to complement and enhance the experience that people have with your people and to use people to complement and enhance the experience people have with your technology. Finding that balance is incredibly, incredibly important or else people will post about their experience with you… but you’re going to wish they hadn’t.

How to Find the Right Balance

So the question of course, is how do you do this.

Start With Your Customer

As with anything to do with customer experience, you have to start with your customer. You have to start with what does our customer want? What does our customer need? And I don’t just mean ask them. I don’t just mean conduct a survey. You know, there’s the old Henry Ford quote that said, "if I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse," right?

So we’re really thinking in terms of what is it that our customers actually care about? What do they value? You’ve got tremendous data around this today. Look at your website search. Look at the search terms people use to find you. Look at any survey information that you might have. And talk to people who talk to your customers. It could be your customer support reps. It could be your sales people. It could be the folks in your retail outlet. Or if you have a hotel or a restaurant, waiters, servers, front desk folks. But talk with the people who talk with customers.

Look at the data that your customers are already providing you. What are the questions that they have for you?

What Are Your Service Values? What is Your Service Culture?

The next thing that you want to do is talk about what are your service values? What do you consider the kind of experience you want people to have? It’s okay to say in some cases, "Wait, this isn’t what we are. We are an incredibly efficient company," for example. We’ve talked about this in the past about the types of companies that exist out there, and some companies really focus on being incredibly efficient so that they can be the low-cost leader. Cool. That means that you’re going to provide your customers more self-serve options. Cool. Which means that those self-serve options have to enable people to actually accomplish their task when they come to.

Do you look at your website data about where people spend their time? Are they looking at FAQs? Are they looking at help files? Are they looking at content associated with the owner experience? Because that’s going to be really telling data for you. So think about what your service values are, what your level of service is that you want to provide people.

And make sure that you’ve got a clear definition of that both internally with your team and also externally with your customers. What is a reasonable expectation for them to have? Do you have content that makes it clear how you help customers help themselves, or how customers can get help when they need it?

Can There Be Too Much Good Customer Experience?

This next piece does get a little more challenging because this is going to vary company by company. You do want to think about how you easy you want to make it for customers to speak with a human being when they want and where they want. I would argue most companies are better off in the long run if you make it easy for customers to get in touch with you whenever and wherever they want… with some huge caveats on that.

If you’re the local pizzeria and you close at 10 o’clock at night, you probably don’t need a 24 hour help line. That’s okay. If you are a local business who supports local customers and you have hours of operation, it is okay sometimes for those hours of operation to say, "we’re not available at this point in the day." That’s true.

What is also true though, is if you provide the kinds of service that people expect to be able to use at any time of the day or night, there needs to be a way for people to get in touch with a human being when they have to.

My Lively Experience. I told the story about a year ago about ordering some new hearing aids, and the delivery didn’t occur properly. The delivery turned into a nightmare. And Lively — the company from whom I purchased the hearing aids; who have since changed their name to Jabra Enhance, but regardless — they actually did a much better job of helping me locate the shipment than the shipping provider did. Which was huge for me. Now, the only way I interacted with Lively was via email. But it worked out great. I sent in an email, I got an automated response right away that said we’ll get back to you within the next 24 hours, which was great. Notice they used an automated email response to tell me when I could expect to get an email back. And I got an email first thing the next morning. I think I emailed at like four o’clock in the afternoon. You can check out the episode where I’ve talked about this in the past, but my point is they set an expectation using technology and then they went ahead and met that expectation, exceeded that expectation, and did it using a human being but through email. I didn’t get on the phone with anybody. It was probably pretty quick for their person to get ahold of me. So it was really, really valuable to me and really worked for them.

How Do You Message Your Service Values to Your Customers?

The next part that was really important in that story and really important for you to do is again, think about what we talked about last week, "who speaks for your brand?" Don’t use jargon. Don’t use industry speak. Talk like a human being, and do that in your content too. Yes, you can have a brand voice. That’s fine. But people want to interact with people. They want to interact with a human experience. We are in the most connected age ever, and in some ways the most disconnected age ever. People want to have some kind of connection with whomever they’re interacting with. So make your language talk to people like people. I don’t claim to do this brilliantly, but I mean, listen to this podcast. I’m not talking to marketers. I’m talking to you like a person because we’re people.

Train Your Team

And finally, train your staff. Help your staff learn how to use these things and empower them to make decisions about when they should talk to customers and when they should escalate, when they should use technology, and when they should pick up the phone or send an email or do an SMS or something along those lines. Because ultimately we’re trying to be empathetic and we’re trying to be effective, and you want to balance those.

Conclusion: Finding the Right Balance of Technology and Humanity in Customer Experience

That’s really the whole point here. This is not an either/or. It’s not "either tech or human." It is technology and humans working hand in hand to create the kinds of experiences your customers are going to love and that they’re going to tell their friends and family and fans and followers about.

It will never be perfect. This is always a moving target because people’s expectations change and because our competitors continue to raise the bar of what great experience is like. The queen can be fickle from time to time. But balancing technology and humanity in customer experience depends upon you being a human being, thinking like your customer, seeing what it is your customer wants, seeing what it is you would want if you were the customer, and then using technology to enhance that experience to make it better.

Because again, the only way you’re going to win when robots rule the world is not by being a better robot, it’s by being a better human being. And if you can do that, I guarantee your customers will have an experience that they’ll want to talk about positively. And you will grow your brand in the long run. So yes, balancing humanity and technology and customer experience is a really critical part of how you grow your brand and your business. But it’s important because it’s important to your customers. And if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.

Show Closing and Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for this episode as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 378.

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Show Outro

Finally, I know I say this every week, but I very much appreciate you listening. I would not do this show without you. It means so much to me that we can have a conversation and build this community together.

It means the world to me that you listen. It means the world to me that you comment. It means the world to me that you send emails. It means the world that you reach out to me on social. And I just love that we get to keep the dialogue going. So please, let’s keep the dialogue going. Go ahead, keep your emails coming. Keep pinging me on LinkedIn. Keep pinging me on Twitter. I love hearing from you. I love getting to chat with you about all of this.

With all that said, I hope you have an amazing rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as always, take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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