Why the human touch matters in the age of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) holds great promise for understanding and improving customer experiences. From facial recognition tools to big data analysis, AI can help organizations understand and improve the customer’s journey.

However, customers are human beings, and many of their decisions are based on emotions and subconscious factors. Sometimes, the human touch is the key to loyalty and continued value for an organization. We discussed this recently in a webinar with Colin Shaw, Founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy.

Understanding memories and loyalty 

Customer loyalty is really a function of memory. When customers visit a business more than once, they don’t base their decision on their experience with the business, they base it on their memory of the experience. And those memories are heavily influenced by a customer’s feelings during and at the end of their customer journey. This is supported by Professor Daniel Kahneman’s theory of the ‘Peak End Rule’.

But memories don’t stand in isolation. They are linked to one another, much like a fishing net. If, for example, you own a restaurant, you can imagine a potential customer holding onto the portion of a net that represents his memory of his last visit to your establishment. That memory is connected to other ones. There are earlier meals at your restaurant, the reviews on Yelp, an advertisement, similar meals at other restaurants. Together, these links shape your customer’s decision as to whether or not to eat at your restaurant again.

Value and the human touch

When I lived full-time in England, my wife and I had our milk delivered to our doorstep by a fellow named Kevin. Every Friday evening Kevin would come ‘round to collect his fee, and we’d joke and laugh with him. At one point I suggested that we cancel the milk delivery and get our milk at the grocery store because it was cheaper, but my wife wanted to keep the delivery service because she felt loyal to Kevin, wanted to support his business and enjoyed his visits.

Eventually Kevin left the company and our new milkman decided to automate things to save time and effort, leaving a bill under the milk bottle and asking us to leave him payment in return. Within two months we’d cancelled the milk delivery! By automating the system, the milkman had taken away the value, which was the personal interaction we had with Kevin on Friday night. 

Paying the milkman personally was in some ways less convenient than just leaving a check, but this kind of friction in a transaction can be a good thing. If you’ve ever bought furniture from Ikea, you know that it arrives in a flat box that you then have to assemble yourself. It turns out that people actually value their Ikea furniture more, simply because of the effort they have put into it. 

Understanding what customers really want 

Data does not always show us what’s important to customers, and customers often don’t tell us what they truly want. That’s why you have to dig deeper to discover what really creates value for your customers.

For example, Beyond Philosophy worked with a hospital whose patients had said they wanted to spend more time with their doctors. The hospital was considering spending a great deal of money to meet this need. But in our analysis we learned that the patients did not really want more time with their doctors. They actually wanted to feel that their doctors were listening to them. The problem was that doctors were typing on their computers during patient interactions, and the patients believed the doctors weren’t paying attention to what they said. The solution was not more time, it was training the doctors to show they were listening!

Here, the value was not in the amount of time spent, but in the human touch. The patients wanted to feel a personal connection with their doctors.

AI will, no doubt, revolutionize customer experience, but it’s a mistake to plunge headlong into automation and digital transformation without looking more closely at what customers truly value. If you take out the human touch, you may be losing the most important thing.

Listen here for the recording of the webinar and to find out more about why the human touch matters in the age of AI.

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