It’s never been clearer that brands need to be better at balancing digital-only experiences with customer service options that offer human interaction. While interactions with brands are increasingly automated, person-to-person conversations are still highly valued by consumers. This is especially true among those attempting to complete stressful, high-stakes purchase decisions like mortgages, insurance, healthcare and travel packages.
The sales ramifications are critical. Consider that 52% of consumers feel frustrated with a brand when human interaction isn’t possible, with just 16% saying they enjoy digital-only experiences. These numbers represent new research data, as my company teamed with Harris Poll to survey 2,000 consumers about their customer experience at the dawn of the artificial intelligence (AI) era. Perhaps the most startling finding: nearly 1 in 5 (18%) of respondents said they were actually angry when they couldn’t talk to a customer rep. We can all agree that angry customers are the exact opposite of what we are striving for. They are less loyal, purchase smaller orders and spread negative word of mouth online and offline.—that’s a bad trifecta of results.
Indeed, it’s incredibly important for brands to make customers feel like they are being taken care of. Here are four ways to create happier customers.
Offer them a voice
As investment guru Mary Meeker recently showed in her annual report, the cost of customer acquisition has never been higher. The upshot: customer loyalty is increasingly important for businesses to remain sustainable. Brands should leverage cross-channel data to create seamless customer experiences so brand-to-consumer conversations can be picked up no matter where people are at in the customer journey.
Another way of creating loyalty is by offering a helping hand as often as possible, and inspirational examples are out there. For instance, Furnishr understands the need for human consultation. The four-year-old startup lets you furnish your whole home—from living room furniture and beds to rugs and lamps—without leaving your couch. It not only offers interactive, AR-powered apps to see how furniture will look around the house, but it also encourages customers to set up a phone consultation with one of its home designers to find the right styles. And TurboTax offers live video chat with a certified public accountant when taxpayers hit a filing snag. The accounting services brand is wise to offer a human touch—of all categories, we found financial services category to be the least likely in which consumers (19%) would trust AI.
Give them options
In recent years, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma stated that "success and profitability are the outcomes of focusing on customers and employees, not objectives." His comment underscores that running a modern business means being empathetic toward the people who are most important to your success. Customers, as Ma noted, are at the top of that list.
Brands should give them the communication channels they need and want. We found that 38% of consumers would trust AI-generated advice for checking/comparing flight or hotel options or restaurant recommendations, while only 20% would trust AI-generated advice for healthcare and 19% for financial services. On the retail front, less than half of consumers (49%) would trust AI-generated advice for retail shopping. And retail customers greatly prefer in-person service (46%) compared to online (35%).
The retail stats accentuate why direct-to-consumer brands like Rothy’s, Indochino and Casper are increasingly opening bricks-and-mortar stores. These disruptive players, which launched as online-only entities, understand that to create loyal patrons they need to offer both digital and human interactions.
When a customer reaches out to your brand, it’s imperative to help them as emotionally intelligently as possible. To accomplish that end, human reps, websites and chatbots need to be powered by data about where customers are in their purchase journey and what matters most to them. And this data should be used to assist customers as quickly as possible across all channels.
Mobile channels offer opportunities to provide immediate aid. Take eyeglasses startup Warby Parker, which offers prescription checks through a telehealth app, administering a 20-minute eye test that gets reviewed by a physician before authorizing your prescription. And Sephora offers an AR app to let you try on makeup from home or book an in-store consultation appointment via the brand’s Facebook Messenger bot.
Indeed, the key is to strike while the iron is hot. After all, per research by Rosetta Marketing Group, highly-engaged customers purchase 90% more frequently than average customers and spend 60% more every time.
Follow the right playbook
In sum, nothing keeps customers happier than an attentive brand. And automation often does not cut it, as our study discovered that 87% of consumers have experienced AI or automation as the only customer care option. Talk about frustrating.
It’s important to provide multiple channels of communication, a human touch and immediate service to grow consumers’ affinity toward your brand. And it’s equally imperative to use cross-channel data along the way because today’s customers expect personalized experiences. If all brands followed that playbook, they wouldn’t suffer from nearly one-fifth of consumers being angry with them.
Julia Stead is VP of marketing at Invoca.