How technology can deliver a more human experience

24 January 2019

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.


Robert Park on the launch of his consultancy RWG Enterprises

18 April 2019

Following a lengthy spell as a General Manager at an international materials corporation, Robert Park was keen to rediscover his inner entrepreneur. With the launch of his new consulting firm, RWG Enterprises, Park spoke with to outline his hopes for the future of the company, and how he believes his boutique will be able to challenge the market.

Robert Park commenced his career in retail, taking up a string of General Store Manager positions with companies – including Poundstretcher and The Gadget Shop – before making the 2005 move that would lead him to a 13-year stay with Morgan Advanced Materials. First taking up a role as Production Supervisor with the organisation, Park quickly worked his way to the upper echelons of the group. By 2013, he held the role of UK Operations Manager for the company’s UK ceramic core business, Certech UK, before seeing out his final four years at the firm as General Manager, leading the senior management team and strategic direction of the business.

Despite his success with the firm, however, Park found himself getting itchy feet. A change of career seemed increasingly appealing, and by February 2019, the time to take a new path had arrived.

Park explained: “I was losing the ability to to use the entrepreneurial flair that I had enjoyed in the past; the organisation was moving more towards a structured and common approach for doing things, and that made me feel restricted. I also really enjoy the troubleshooting, problem solving side of my role. However, having been in my last post for four years, the troubleshooting and firefighting was long behind me. I realised that I am really energised by tackling difficult issues or turning around things that are clearly struggling.”

New consulting firm RWG Enterprises launches

His criteria for a new career seemed to point conclusively in the direction of management consulting, and while his CV has no formal experience in the sector, Park believes his career to date has provided him with a wealth of transferable skills. During his time with Certech at Morgan Advanced Materials, he became a Senior Manager at the age of just 21, and went on to succeed in a harsh factory environment where six former candidates had previously failed to deliver results.

Later, he became the group’s youngest General Manager in its history, and was involved in the turnaround of numerous departments. He also developed vast experience dealing with a wide range of ‘people’ challenges, including re-organisation, talent development, talent acquisition and leadership development. Along the way, Park noted that he learned to deal with large, blue chip organisations such as Rolls Royce, securing major long-term contracts worth upwards of £25 million.

Now, he hopes to take that know-how and apply it to the diverse world of consulting work. Park elaborated: “I really want to be able to help organisations that feel that there is no hope or have lost faith in the business… Having been there myself I know how helpful it would have been to have someone to refer to in times of crisis… The firm will also focus on leadership development, as I spent a lot of time with the global graduate program during my corporate career… and I was really motivated to see these individuals grow and develop… helping them to find their own way through challenging situations.

New enterprise

Park’s new Derby-based consultancy, RWG Enterprises, will focus on five key operational fronts. As stated, leadership development and business rescue will be two of these areas, as well as manufacturing – where the firm will tackle challenges such as new product introduction. RWG will also offer financial advisory services and strategic business planning offerings.

While Park is understandably guarded about the firm’s initial engagements, he revealed that he has been “speaking at length to a well-known university and business school about providing mentoring and coaching support to students.” In the long-term, the aim is for RWG Enterprises to take on engagements from clients across the industrial spectrum. He added that as “the company is very embryonic”, it would be “foolish” to become too focused on target clients at this stage.

When asked how RWG Enterprises intends to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack, in an ever-more-crowded UK consulting sector, Park is undaunted by the task ahead. He stated, “I think the main differentiator is that we are small... I have operated at a very senior level for many years but I have enjoyed a very diverse background having worked in most functions within my last organisation. I also won’t take on any work or clients that I feel I cannot deliver value for, I am honest and ethical and am really motivated by seeing others become successful… The main thing I am focused on is 'can I add value' and 'can I help?'”