Maintaining Human Touch in an Ever-Growing Digital World: Interview with Ian Golding

As we move further into the digital age, technology is playing an increasingly important role in our lives, transforming the way we communicate, work, and even think. However, in the midst of all these rapid changes, the importance of the human touch can easily be overlooked.

To explore this topic further, we spoke with Certified Customer Experience Professional, Customer Experience Consultant, and author Ian Golding, who has extensive experience in CX, with a focus on the human aspects of customer interactions. In this interview, he shares his insights on the challenges of maintaining a human approach in an ever-growing digital world.

How do you think the importance of a human approach in the digital world impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty?

This is a critically important question – and one that I am asked every week! My standard response will always be that the experience an organization delivers to its customers is all about the enablement of ‘human-to-human interaction.’

It does not matter how digitally enabled an organization becomes, we require human beings to design and manage digital technology to enable human beings to interact with products and services. This has always been the case and will always be the case.

Unfortunately, due to many factors (the pandemic, global economic crisis, etc.), digital technology is far too often seen as a way of replacing human beings to save money – not as a primary way of improving the customer experience. Ultimately, if an organization chooses to adopt digital technology without understanding the customer journey – if it chooses to ‘throw’ technology at the customer journey without recognizing the customer journey – it will very likely make the experience they deliver worse.

There is no doubt that if technology is adopted in alignment with the customer journey, not only will it make life easier for the employees responsible for delivering it, it will make the experience more accessible for the customer. In an increasingly competitive business environment, the more accessible an experience is to the customer, the more likely it is they will choose to come back to you.

With the increasing automation of customer service, how can companies maintain a human touch in their interactions with customers?

It is absolutely essential that there is a clear understanding of the customer journey. This does not mean the creation of pretty-looking pictures! The customer journey needs to become a ‘living, breathing organism’ in the organization so that any change being adopted – digital or otherwise – is made with an understanding of how it will impact the employee and customer.

By continuously managing the customer journey (not just mapping it), it is also essential to track emotion – how every interaction is making customers feel. By constantly monitoring emotion across the journey, we will put ourselves in the position to identify when automation may be having a detrimental effect on the customer.

Additionally, those responsible for designing, implementing, and managing technology must know what it feels like to be a customer. Many say that they ‘put themselves in their customers' shoes, but when it comes to automating elements of the customer journey, it is vital that this is understood at all stages of the design and implementation process.

How do you ensure that the technology you're using in customer interactions doesn't detract from the human touch?

We must be clear as to the motivation for digital adoption. If our goal is to save money by eliminating human interaction, it is very likely that this goal will be achieved. However, doing this without understanding the customer journey is very likely to make the experience for customers worse.

To ensure we do not detract from the human touch, I often advise organizations to create ‘organizational alignment’ – all experiences are delivered through three ‘layers’ – the customer journey; organizational processes; and technology. All too often, these layers are not aligned.

The reason for this is that, in most cases, organizational processes were created and implemented without anyone being consciously aware that the customer journey even existed. It gets even worse when you reach the technology layer because, as with process, most organizations bought, designed and implemented technology without knowing there was a customer journey.

To ensure that technology does not detract from the human touch, we should not start with the technology layer, ‘force’ processes into the technology, completely ignoring the customer journey! We must always start with the customer journey and then understand what technology we need that will better enable our processes to better give our customers what they need.

How can companies cultivate empathy and emotional intelligence in their employees to maintain a human approach in digital interactions?

In my opinion, empathy has been and always will be the most important underlying principle of customer experience. It is vital that all employees understand how they make others feel – not just the customer but each other as well.

To cultivate empathy and emotional intelligence, I believe that employees must constantly be experiencing what their customers do – actually walking the journey themselves – not as employees, but as customers. This is more challenging in a B2B environment but not impossible.

We need all employees to be ‘thinking and acting’ in the interests of the customer at all times. The only way that can happen is if employees truly know what it feels like to be a customer. Unfortunately, far too often this is not the case – especially with non-customer-facing employees. The simple question we should always ask ourselves when we are doing anything that may impact the customer is – ‘how would I feel if this was done to me?’.

How is ChatGPT going to disrupt the customer experience landscape?

As a self-confessed technophobe, I am not sure I am the best person to answer this question! However, based on what I know, it could be hugely significant. However, it is still so important that it is not seen as a way of eliminating employees – as a way of saving money quickly.

While digital technology will play an increasingly important role in our lives, what organizations must never forget, is that the thing a customer is most likely to remember about their experience with an organization, is not the technology but the way your employees made them feel.