• October 13, 2023
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

CRM Needs to Keep the Human Element

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The world, it would seem, is even more detached than I originally thought. I’ve been noticing for some time that people don’t talk to one another much anymore. See people on the street and chances are good that their heads are down looking at their phones (not paying attention to traffic or anything else) rather than engaging with other human beings. They have earbuds in their ears to shield them from the annoying sounds their fellow human beings might make. They’d sooner send an impersonal text than have a real one-on-one voice conversation.

This trend started a few years ago, and it only got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns prevented people from maintaining any kind of contact with one another. I had hoped it would change once the lockdowns ended, but it only seems to have gotten worse, not better.

This applies as much to business interactions as it does to personal relationships. This point is made abundantly clear in two of our feature articles in this month’s issue. Though on a welcome note, both articles also end up making a case for human interaction.

In the first, “Self-Service Buying Goes Mainstream,” it’s revealed that when it comes to their purchasing decisions, buyers want to learn about products on their own, taking sales reps out of the process. It presents research from TrustRadius that found that 87 percent of buyers said they wanted to self-serve part or all of their buying journeys. What’s more, 77 percent of buyers start their path to purchase with their own research, and only 23 percent contact the vendors’ sales reps, down from 43 percent in 2021.

“Customers are doing their own research online about a company or product before the seller has an opportunity to pitch it, whether it concerns transactional items or complex systems,” McKinsey said in a related report highlighted in the article.

On their path to purchase, buyers are replacing human contact with online content, like product demos, customer reviews, social communities and user forums, customer case studies and references, company blog posts, and marketing materials, according to TrustRadius.

The other feature, “AI Undergoes a Contact Center Expansion,” points to a related trend where artificial intelligence is being called upon to do more of the day-to-day work that contact center agents used to perform. AI in the contact center is not only helping customers self-serve, lessening their interaction with agents, but it is also helping agents get the information they need to serve customers more efficiently, lessening their need to interact with other agents, supervisors, or subject matter experts.

A common theme in both of these articles is that while technology has huge potential to augment businesses and make them more efficient, winning companies still realize that all business has a human component and people are still necessary in building and maintaining customer relationships. Businesses can inject AI and other technologies into these relationships, but in the end, they’ll still need humans.

Automation works great for many tasks, like providing account balances, resetting passwords, or locating an article from a massive company knowledge base, but there are far more interactions that still require a human touch. Hitting zero on a keypad or screaming “Agent” into an interactive voice response system might be the last resort for many customers, but it still has to be an option. Companies need to offer human assistance when customers get stuck trying to do things on their own.

Shunning human contact might be good in some scenarios, like riding a New York subway or when you’re in a Philadelphia sports stadium and you root for the visiting team, but that doesn’t work for companies.

A human face builds trust, credibility, an emotional connection, a personalized experience, and a unique exchange of information that automation just cannot duplicate. So when you plan your automation budgets for 2024, keep in mind that businesses need a human interface. As technology continues to advance, the human touch will continue to be invaluable for business success.

Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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