How technology can deliver a more human experience

24 January 2019 8 min. read
More news on

The CRM system has come a long way since its humble beginnings. What started life as a way of keeping track of customer phone numbers has evolved to incorporate a myriad of features, including marketing automation, live chat, next-best action recommendations and behavioural analytics. Often referred to as CRM 3.0, this current iteration plays a big part in delivering a differentiated and tailored customer experience. By combining data with customer behaviour patterns, it can help brands form more human-like relationships with customers.

With over three decades of experience in customer design and relationship management under his belt, Peter Ballard, founder of design agency Foolproof, is an expert in the field. caught up with Ballard to discuss the human experience elements of sales & marketing and CRM, and how brands can use them to their advantage. 

There’s a lot of interest in the ‘human elements of CRM’. In your opinion, what is the essence of humanness that CRM 3.0 needs?

When Foolproof conducted some research on customer behaviour for Post Office Money on mortgages, nearly all the customers we spoke to said that whilst they were happy to research mortgages online, they’d need to speak to a person before they could buy a mortgage. We wanted to explore what it was about speaking to a person that those customers craved. We found that the ‘human element’ that customers want boils down to:

• Reassurance that they’ve seen everything they need to see
• Confidence they’re making the right decision
• Knowledge that support is available, should they make a mistake.

Once we knew what customers wanted, we could experiment to see if we could fulfil these specific needs with technology, by designing and building them into the customer experience journey without the need to hand-off to a human. Our hypothesis was that customers didn’t specifically need to talk to a person, it’s just that their needs weren’t currently being satisfied by the journey they were on.

How technology can deliver a more human experience

While customers take comfort from ‘human-like’ interactions, this doesn’t necessary need to be delivered by a human. If a chatbot is ‘realistic’ enough, the desire for human interaction is actually being fulfilled. I believe we will get to a point where the digital experience can replicate much of a human-to-human experience, including demonstrating empathy, the ability to interpret meaning from events, and the ability to understand the irrational. However, we’re not there yet – you can usually still tell when you’re talking to a robot.

What sort of CRM experience do you think customers want from brands?

I think that’s the wrong question – if the customer gets the overall experience that they want, they don’t care how they get there or what tools the brand deployed to help. There is the apocryphal story that if you asked customers queuing in a bank branch to withdraw money back in the early 1970s what they wanted, they would have said more cashier windows open. In actuality the solution was ATMs – but nobody could visualise it yet because it didn’t exist. 

The same applies today, we just might not yet be able to imagine all of the ways that technology can be used to help us receive confidence, reassurance, and the important emotive parts of decision making.

What’s the right balance between humans and tech: do we want tech to be more human, or should we keep them distinct and play to their own strengths?

I think we should be better at identifying where humans add more value. Fact and logic queries are easily handled by tech, so it’s a waste of resource to use humans to answer them. When you do need to use a human, we should use technology to help them do their job better so the level of service goes up.

We worked with a private investment bank, famous for their excellent customer service. However, their relationship managers were spending 30% of their time answering admin questions that could be automated. By creating a system that answered these simple queries, this allowed relationship managers to take on more face-to-face work with customers.

There’s also a school of thought that suggests removing humans in healthcare allows patients to receive better treatment. The stigma associated with certain health conditions, symptoms, or treatments means some patients may be too self-conscious to seek medical help. Actually, interacting with a robot that provides non-judgmental healthcare advice may outperform a human doctor in those circumstances. While we may have a preference for human interactions, there are some drawbacks to dealing with humans that may be improved by tech.

“As well as using tech to improve the customer service experience, we anticipate brands using tech to improve the employee experience. Happier and more engaged team members are able to provide better service to customers.”

What are the potential challenges of CRM 3.0, and how can they be overcome?

By completely removing people in customer service, brands do run the slight risk of isolating customers who value a human experience. As long as it’s not impossible to escalate a case to a human customer service professional, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem .I expect customers to welcome the opportunities that human-like machine interactions give them, in the same way that banking customers who embraced online banking often gave higher satisfaction scores for the service they felt they received. 

There is also some concern that the amount of data needed to deliver truly connected CX could put off customers. But look at GDPR and the recent changes to cookie policies – people are still providing just as much data as they were before. Most customers are sophisticated enough to know that providing responsible brands with their data isn’t always a bad thing – it can provide them with a much better experience.

How can businesses balance the desire to automate to save costs, with the need to provide greater customer experience?

If the organisation’s primary driver is cost saving, they are probably going to erode the customer experience. If your primary driver is customer satisfaction, you need only automate parts of the experience that are going to benefit the consumer.

When undergoing periods of digital transformation, we recommend organisations regularly engage with their customers and seek to add value to the customer experience. We argue that creating new and differentiated experiences that create genuine value for the customer is the best way to create long term value for the brand.

How will the leading organisations approach CX and CRM 3.0?

The best brands will approach this from a customer-first point of view. If you don’t have superior CX, you’re not going to be competitive. Over time, you’re not going to be successful. As well as using tech to improve the customer service experience, we anticipate brands using tech to improve the employee experience. Happier and more engaged team members are able to provide better service and support to customers.

We expect to see more tech used in employee training, and identifying and resolving team issues. For example, if you’re not getting on with your boss, it might be easier to talk through problems with a chatbot. So, through this technology, and the use of the data staff provide, the experience of working for a company could be made more human.

Related: How design thinking can help build a successful strategy.