The customer experience (CX) landscape is constantly evolving, and companies are trying to keep up with changing customer expectations. At the heart of this evolution is a tug-of-war between technology and people. Understanding the balance between these two crucial elements of CX will be critical to organizational success.
Embracing Technology to Enhance CX
The impact of digital transformation cannot be ignored when it comes to CX. In many instances, the digital experience and the customer experience are one and the same, such as in e-commerce when there are generally no (visible) humans involved.
In the last year, artificial intelligence (AI) emerged as the latest shiny object. It has quickly become a core component in defining customer interactions. From chatbots to recommendation engines, AI-driven technologies have the potential to automate processes, analyze vast amounts of data, and deliver personalized experiences at scale.
According to the HGS CX Buyers’ Insights Report, nearly half (46%) of CX decision-makers have already invested in generative AI/speech-to-text real-time agent assist technology, with 39% also investing in robotic process automation (RPA) and 32% in customer-facing AI chatbots. The research further suggests than in the next 18 months, those numbers will rise significantly.
A key advantage of AI is its ability to quickly process huge amounts of customer data, allowing businesses to gain insights into preferences, behaviors, and pain points. By leveraging this information, companies can tailor their interactions and services, resulting in a more personalized experience. AI can also enable more self-service options, freeing human agents to focus on complex tasks and higher-value interactions.
Technology Isn’t Enough Without People
While technology brings immense benefits to the CX landscape, the human touch remains irreplaceable. Empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to adapt to nuanced customer situations… these are uniquely human traits. These qualities enable customer service agents to address complex issues while building trust with customers.
And customers are still demanding human interactions, especially with those complex issues that can still flummox AI chatbots.
The idea, then, isn’t to replace humans with technology, but to help them become better at their jobs, including doing what they are uniquely qualified to do: be human.
Relatedly, companies cannot expect their employees to provide a superior customer experience if they don’t know what one looks like. So organizations must place an equal importance on employee experience, so that they are better equipped to service customers.
Unfortunately, this is a current weak spot among many organizations, as anyone who has experienced a snarly fast-food cashier can attest.
A whopping 70% of CX decision makers say they have not invested enough into keeping their customer experience employees happy and motivated, according to the HGS report.
And yet: 54% of those same decision-makers say that attracting and retaining CX talent is a top priority — just slightly behind the 57% that cites automation technology.
Companies must invest more in the employee experience, including adequate training, a comfortable work environment, and an appropriate reward and recognition structure. Otherwise, it won’t be technology replacing the humans; it will be the humans replacing themselves.
Achieving Balance Between Technology And People
Instead of looking at AI as a replacement for human agents, businesses must strive for collaboration between the two. The real power lies in combining AI with human skills, creating a sustainable relationship that combines the efficiency benefits of technology with the emotional intelligence of humans.
Businesses can start by using AI to automate repetitive tasks and handle simple customer requests. This not only enhances efficiency but also frees up human agents to focus on more complex customer interactions that require empathy, problem-solving, and personalized engagement. This collaborative approach ensures that customers experience speed and convenience most of the time, while keeping human agents available for when they’re really needed.
Employee training is also critical, so that agents understand both the benefits and the limitations of new technology. With continuous upskilling, organizations can encourage employees to embrace and adapt to technological advancements. And of course, training programs should emphasize that AI is a tool to enhance employees’ own capabilities, rather than a replacement for human involvement.
Customer-facing AI interfaces like chatbots must also provide a seamless handover to human agents as soon as it becomes clear that the issue is too complicated for the established parameters of the bot. Customers don’t want their time wasted, and they definitely don’t want to have to repeat their complaints multiple times. A quick and painless handoff will ensure the simple issues get resolved quickly and the complex ones receive the added attention they need.
The Customer-Centric Culture
CX decision-makers understand they need to balance investments in technology and people, even if they don’t yet know the exact path to getting there.
According to the HGS report, 63% of decision-makers say that adopting a customer-centric organizational culture is the most important factor for maintaining a competitive edge in customer experience. And they are right.
A customer-centric culture is one in which the customer is at the center of every business decision. It is a collective commitment to prioritize customer satisfaction and value at every level of the organization, not just in the Customer Service department.
Nothing is decided — be it a price change, product update, or experience enhancement — without first looking at the problem through the lens of the customer. If it benefits the customer, it will almost always benefit the business as well. Why? Because companies that take care of their customers find themselves with more customers who spend more, stay longer, and tell others about them.
Customer-centric cultures are a cohesive ecosystem where technology, human talent, and organizational values come together to deliver an exceptional customer — and employee — experience.
The best customer experiences are created with the the seamless integration of technology and humans. To truly unlock exceptional experiences, businesses must foster a customer-centric culture that puts customers at the heart of everything they do.
By leveraging AI as an enabler and empowering human agents through ongoing training, organizations can deliver personalized, satisfying experiences that engage customers on a deeper level. They can also demonstrate their value and commitment to the employees that make those customer experiences possible.
Organizations that can strike the perfect balance between technology and the human touch will enhance their bottom line by building lasting customer relationships in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Dan Gingiss is an international keynote speaker, customer experience expert, and the author of The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share.