The economy is sailing along, unemployment is low, and the stock market is soaring. Despite all these positive signs, anxiety in the U.S. is at an all-time high. Between stagnant wages, increased housing prices, and a fractured political landscape, there’s a lot to worry about. This is impacting not just people’s personal lives—it’s also changing what they expect from businesses.
Building Trust by Reducing Friction
For brands, trust is now harder to build and easier to lose and customers don’t hesitate to walk away when a company drops the ball. In fact, Accenture found that half of customers who have a poor experience with a brand will stop doing business with that company entirely.
Brands have responded to this shift by investing even more heavily in digital experiences that ostensibly reduce friction. They’re experimenting with technologies like chatbots, voice assistants and other digital self-service platforms that can automate simple transactions and provide information without any human involvement.
I can order dish soap with the push of a button, or say “Hey Alexa, order me an Uber.” Most of the time, these self-service options are a no-brainer; I’d rather not go to Walgreens or call a cab company if I don’t have to. But in this era of angst, when stress thresholds are low and expectations are high, brands risk over-rotating toward self-service and sacrificing the human connection that matters more than ever.
People Need People — and Bots
Research shows that shoppers prefer to communicate with bots and humans. While the number of people who say they dislike bots decreased 21 percent from last year, 58 percent of consumers say the reason they’re opposed to chatbots is that they'd prefer to talk to a human. Don’t expect bots to replace human customer support for answering complex questions, helping customers with high-value or considered purchases, or resolving nuanced issues.
In the case of more complex or emotional situations, a bot won’t cut it. Most people don’t want an entirely self-service option for refinancing their home, preparing taxes, choosing an insurance plan, or booking a multi-day vacation. They want to explore options through digital channels, then have a conversation with a human when it’s most helpful.
Our research found that when looking into a complicated purchase, 39 percent of people prefer to talk to an expert advisor, compared to 25 percent who prefer to search online. We also learned that 35 percent of consumers opt for the human touch of a phone call when their purchase exceeds $500. The digital-to-human handoff is now critical — and therein lies the opportunity for marketers, who may find it increasingly challenging to meet customer expectations in this cultural climate.
Service Automation Makes Experiences Less Taxing
Brands might learn from the example of Turbotax, a company that knows how to provide a helping hand at the right moment while automating the rest. I completed most of my 2017 filling on its online platform, but there were still just a couple of important and specific things I needed to figure out. By paying $50 for the brand’s video chat service, I got real-time advice that let me finish that arduous annual task and improve my filing results.
An eastern European bank, TBC, understands how to increase sales by making customers’ lives easier with omnichannel offerings. It increased loan approvals by 40 percent by giving customers the opportunity to finish their applications at ATMs and kiosks after starting them on the phone.
It’s not only financial services that are leading the way. The digital-first retailer Bonobos takes TBC’s approach further by capturing shoppers’ preferences and connecting this data online and offline. So, if you try on a shirt in a Bonobos store but don’t purchase it, the rep you speak with over the phone or via live chat rep will know about the styles and sizes you like.
In the food category, Butterball is an example of the power of combining technology with a personal touch. Every holiday season, 50 turkey specialists counsel nervous cooks nationwide via phone, email, text and online chat in an effort called 1-800-BUTTERBALL. The support team fields an average of 10,000 questions on Thanksgiving Day alone, with about 75 percent of its customers preferring a phone call. It makes perfect sense: When the cook is flustered and making the most important meal of the year, the fastest path to the right answer is usually a live talk with a human expert.
Brands like Turbotax, TBC, Bonobos and Butterball are giving their busy customers ways to get done what they need to get done, building brand affinity and trust by eliminating their frustrations. In the current climate of angst, this personal touch is priceless.
The climate of general anxiety and mistrust may not go away anytime soon. It poses a challenge and opportunity for marketers to make their customers’ lives easier at every turn, providing the right mix of digital and human support rather than becoming another source of frustration.