Business Transformation

Digitally Aided and Human Powered – How to Engage Customers in a Digital World

Joseph A. Michelli

I’d like to change the words of Peter Seeger’s folk ballad from “Where have all the flowers gone?” to “Where have all the service professionals gone?”

(If you’d like a musical backing track to accompany this article, here’s a link to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version of the song.)

It seems I’m not alone in my perception that it is more difficult to get ahold of service professionals these days. For example:

  1. International research conducted by PwC shows, “Two-thirds of consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. Three-quarters say they want more human interaction in the future, not less.”
  2. Findings from CGS, a business applications and outsourcing company, conducted in the US and UK show both countries “were practically equal at 44% when it came to the percentage of respondents who said they wanted companies to be more open about easy ways to get in touch with a human.”

Despite this research, many business leaders are trying to maximize technology solutions at the expense of human service delivery. For example, McDonald’s is test marketing a drive-thru concept involving no human interaction. Even the food handoff occurs via a conveyor belt. McDonald’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, announced the high-tech project by noting:

“Customers interact with others less in person and more through their digital devices with heightened expectations for the service they receive.”

In my opinion, technology is necessary to expedite self-service and convenience – given “heightened customer expectations.” However, leaders should also ensure sufficient levels of human service availability.

Crafting the right balance between humans and technology isn’t easy, but the pendulum may be swinging a bit too far toward “easy tech” and too far away from “personal humans.” To compensate, big data and AI are being leveraged to uncover customer preferences to enhance personalized digital service.

In the song “Where have all the flowers gone,” each verse highlights something that gives way to something else. Flowers yield to young girls. Young girls transition to young men. Young men shift to soldiers. Soldiers yield to graveyards, and graveyards come full circle back to flowers.

In the world of customer experience design and delivery, human-powered service is yielding to technology which I expected will someday yield back to human service.

Throughout this cycle, I challenge you to be a human-powered, technology-aided business – not a technological service company that leaves customers asking:

“Where have all the service professionals gone?”

Written by Joseph A. Michelli.
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Joseph A. Michelli
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant. His insights encourage leaders and frontline workers to grow and invest passionately in all aspects of their lives. Dr. Michelli is the author of numerous national bestsellers, including The Starbucks Experience, The New Gold Standard, and the New York Times #1 bestseller Prescription for Excellence. He was named as one of the Top 10 thought leaders in Customer Service by Global Gurus. His new book is The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging (October 2019, McGraw Hill). Dr. Michelli is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.