Companies, despite exploding technological power, are failing to keep up with rising customer standards. Customer service technology should build a customer dialogue and foster deeper relationships, just as the best human customer service representatives do. And then it should go beyond, using emerging technology to accentuate and improve what a human agent can physically accomplish. This is what we call “digital empathy.” teThe keys are to offer customers more control, keep the technology so intuitive it feels mindless, provide visibility at points of customer agitation, and blur the divides of the digital and physical domains.
Customer expectations are outpacing technological innovation. We can all think of instances where companies, despite exploding technological power, are failing to keep up with rising customer standards. In recent years, many of us have probably found ourselves asking rhetorical questions such as: “Why do I have a thousand shows to watch, but can’t organize my favorites ‘just so’? Why is it so much work to analyze my budget, while my credit card has almost all the information needed to help me finish the job? Why don’t I have a unified travel portal that saves all my preferences, my wish list and my rewards memberships as neatly as I organize the songs in my music library?”
At the same time, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a satisfactory way to raise such questions with companies — or even to troubleshoot issues that arise with existing offerings. Risks abound that in a softer economy, companies will focus even more on the digital protocols that cut the cost of interaction but end up cheapening customer connections as a result.
Customer experience leaders are doing things differently. They realize that the digital experience shouldn’t be perfunctory. It should identify with customers’ concerns, do everything possible to make things right, and keep them apprised of the actions being taken on their behalf.
It should also do all of these things while building a customer dialogue and fostering deeper relationships, just as the best human customer service representatives do. And then it should go beyond, using emerging technology to accentuate and improve what a human agent can physically accomplish.
This is what we call “digital empathy.”
Loyalty programs have evolved from Pavlovian reward schemes into better ways to operationalize tiered service. Thoughtful digital tools are starting down a similar path. They’re transcending the marketing department to innovate customer service and reduce friction across operations. For example:
- Virtual assistants eliminate call wait times and quickly respond to queries
- Augmented reality effortlessly toggles paint colors across photos of your bedroom
- Digital keys, pushed to your handheld device, obviate the need to check in at hotels
Surely, as ChatGPT captivates the world, customer-experience experts’ minds are spinning, contemplating what magical use cases the next AI-based tools will enable.
Digital empathy can vastly improve customer experience by emphasizing four key principles:
Offer customers more control
People (particularly younger generations) have grown accustomed to a world where they dictate, rather than select, their experiences. The data they need is at their fingertips, they can easily help themselves, and customer experience is a two-way conversation. Digital empathy recognizes that the customer experience isn’t something that’s done to you, or even for you. It’s something you can proactively calibrate.
Contactless service often fails because it’s rigid, impersonal, and needlessly complicated. Then there’s Rose, the digital concierge of the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, which is rapidly reaching a point where customers won’t discern where the chatbot ends and human intervention begins. From room environment to room service, dinner reservations to billing inquiries, Rose is at the guest’s beck and call with instant access to complete, relevant information.
Keep it so intuitive, it’s mindless
Early adoption of digital technologies is inevitably for the most technical among us. However, we’re now at the stage where any interaction must feel natural and seamless. The world has effectively been conditioned to believe anyone can be a technologist and things should just work. Tolerance for owner’s manuals is nil.
Nest, the clever digital thermostat turned smart-home platform, can certainly accommodate manual configuration. But post-acquisition, Alphabet is undoubtedly discovering that most homeowners just let the device run. Nest can determine the right temperature in the right zone at the right time, with minimal adjustment.
Provide visibility at points of customer agitation
It’s been shown repeatedly that a little transparency can meaningfully improve peace of mind. Think progress bars — the ones that show where you are in a movie or how much of your download is complete.
UPS applied this psychology to the status of our packages, proactively sending notifications that let us navigate each stage of delivery from warehouse to doorstep. Customers can even see the delivery truck’s real-time location and schedule a new drop-off time. Uber, to similar effect, has done likewise for our rides.
Organize with a holistic philosophy
In the same way that digital and real life have been converging for customers, companies must blur the lines between the digital and physical domains of their customer service strategy.
That’s how JetBlue approaches its social media accounts — not as a digital silo, but as a key channel intrinsically linked to the rest of the operation. For example, the airline actively monitors its Twitter feeds and mines them for operational cues that are immediately conveyed to staff on the ground.
Today’s digital tools are a disruptive force unlike any we’ve seen in a generation. In many industries, they’ll tip the market order. These new capabilities enable a compelling opportunity, for sure, but only if digital empathy remains front and center.
The next generation of winning business models will embrace the principles of digital empathy to proactively enhance customer relationships. The concept is powerful precisely because it uses technology to bring humanity, of all things, back to the human experience.