CIO Advisory Series: Keeping the human connection (digitally)

One of the biggest effects of the pandemic has been the restricted physical interaction with other humans. All businesses are feeling the impacts of this on their employees, suppliers and customers.

Guest Blog Author: Jon Weg, CIO and Digital Transformation Leader.

For some industries, such as travel and hospitality this has meant a big drop in activity. Technology companies on the other hand have seen increased demand for collaboration tools and other cloud-based services.

Most retailers have experienced increased digital interactions. Almost every consumer purchase now has at least a digital component in the shopping journey. Whether it’s the purchase itself, the product research, the social validation with peers, the store opening hours, the estimated delivery time or the increasingly important reading of the returns policy.

Frictionless engagement

As retailers rush to put in place solutions to meet this change in customer behaviour, many journeys are still feeling disjointed and not fully formed. As an example, earlier today I visited my local supermarket, downloaded their app as requested at the door, personally scanned all of my selected items as I picked them from the shelves, walking down each aisle. I ended up with an overflowing trolley (I have a large family) and then found to my horror that even though everything was on my phone and in the grocer’s app, I now needed to get into a long queue just to checkout.
Apart from the time frustration, this didn’t feel right from a social distancing perspective. It meant staying in the store longer, whilst some of the people queuing in front of me had not self-scanned and were now busy scanning the items in their baskets at the checkout.

I felt a double penalty for my own scanning had already taken me longer to shop, now I had the chore of having to queue as well! This extra delay was increasing my time to infect others or to be infected by others, surely, I should have been given the option to just check out through an integrated payment service on my phone?


Then add another complexity that the app self-scanning was severely hampered by my mask. With facial recognition no longer working, I had to continually re-key my phone pin code. I found myself longing for my old phone that would have accepted fingerprint recognition.  It’s the whole ecosystem that needs to work together to provide a seamless journey that delights customers. Maybe we will see the phone designers moving back to fingerprint technology or providing multiple biometric methods in the future, to enable the user to select the most appropriate one for the situation they are in.

Customers are increasingly sensitive to friction in their shopping journeys and ultimately will alter their buying choices as a result. Recent research has indicated significant brand switching by customers through the pandemic.  Brands that offer more frictionless or enjoyable experiences are likely to be the winners.

So whilst digital is now critical it can’t be the only solution. We know computers are increasingly capable, in 1997 World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov was beaten by Deep Blue. Then by 2005, you could just about guarantee that computers would beat any human player at chess. However, to this day, the human plus machine is still better than the machine.

In the world of retail, human connection is critical.

Everyone remembers an exceptional service experience they had in store and it has a big impact on their loyalty to the brand.  These are invariably human connections.  So the challenge today is how to keep that human experience when more and more of the retail journey is becoming digital. Plus with on-going and unpredictable store closures getting customers into stores to have those exceptional experiences is proving more difficult to achieve.

The pandemic has driven more reliance on local shopping and helped us to all remember that nobody knows the customer better than the sales associate. Good retailers who were already on a journey of digital transformation have not enforced central controls and task allocation but have empowered their local sales associates with cloud-based solutions to enable them to continue to engage with their customers.

These might be messaging orchestration solutions that safely enable messaging through multiple channels (WhatsApp, iMessage, eMail etc.) or face to face video chat that allow for more immersive experiences to continue remotely.

For example, Airbnb moved many of their experiences online as lockdown started.  Although customers could no longer get to physically visit the locations, they could still enjoy immersive activities and educative classes by talking directly to the host through their laptop or TV screen.  In the same way, the retailer can provide virtual advice and recommendations on the application of products through technology.

Connected experience

Joining up these connections through the company is key so that it’s not just limited to the knowledge of one sales associate for availability and continuity reasons but instead any of their colleagues from around the world can access the content and continue the customer journey if needed.  Then extend this to the customer service team and when the customer connects with them in the future, they will be aware of all the interactions and be able to provide informed advice or purchase recommendations.

To achieve this effectively, requires a ‘keep it simple’ approach with the right end state architecture, leveraging cloud infrastructure.
This also enables scaling, understand requirement and focus on what delivers customer value. It’s also important to build the right ecosystem of partners that can enable you to reach the end vision.  They need to be agile, experienced and high quality as well as collaborative to ensure you make the right steps from the beginning.

Deepen and strengthen customer relationships (digitally)

These are just some of the ways your company can ensure they keep the human connection in this increasingly digital world and help keep your brand connected and relevant. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Jon Weg, CIO & Digital Transformation Leader.