In fact, 52% of all consumers said they get frustrated when brands don’t offer any human interaction, according to a survey conducted by Invoca, and Harris Poll, for which we polled 2,000 consumers about their attitudes toward customer experience in the age of artificial intelligence (AI).
We found that most consumers want options when they’re making considered purchases—for example, when they’re shopping for something expensive or complex, such as a mortgage, insurance, healthcare, home improvement, or vacation package. For these types of purchases, shoppers still want human consultation more often than not—since it’s not like they’re buying paper towels on Amazon—and a bot just won’t cut it.
As brands increasingly test out AI and other new technologies, we uncovered a lot of fresh insights that will help marketers think about how to shape their strategies moving forward. Here are the four major takeaways from our research findings.
1. Include Conversation In Your Commerce
Your customers will get upset if you attempt to put their purchase journey on mute. Take a hard look at how you could better achieve the mix of automation and human interaction that the modern consumer expects. Consider this eyebrow-raising finding: Nearly one in five (18%) of respondents said they were actually angry when they couldn’t speak to a customer representative. What’s more, our study discovered that 87% of consumers have experienced a purchase process where AI or automation was the only customer care option.
When you anger customers with over-automation, even if they patronize your brand again (which is unlikely), they’ll be less loyal, make smaller purchases, and provide less-than-stellar word-of-mouth recommendations via online and offline commentary. That’s the exact opposite of what marketers want to happen.
You need to actually hear your customers out, offer them channels to directly speak with a rep, and use those conversations to understand their concerns. Put this item near the top of your to-do list: Make sure your brand’s phone number is incredibly easy to find on your website so customers feel like your brand is there for them.
2. Lean Into Empathy, Not Bots
Our research tells us that while AI-powered data can bolster the customer experience, AI alone will never completely replace the human touch. For instance, just 38% of consumers said they would trust AI-generated advice for checking and comparing flights or hotel options or restaurant recommendations, while only 20% would trust AI-generated advice for healthcare and 19% for financial services.
CMOs in those considered-purchase categories need to lean into the fact that human interaction will likely be needed. It’s important to show emotional intelligence, which helps power data-driven empathy. Make sure your brand reps have a complete, data-informed view of where the customer is in his or her purchase journey.
The good news is—even in an era of digital transformation—brands increasingly understand that person-to-person consultation is sometimes irreplaceable. For instance, CVS has launched a "digital doctor" video service on its smartphone app, offering medical diagnoses to customers nationwide 24 hours a day. Via the pharmacy brand’s live video chat tool, an actual doctor helps customers with colds, earaches, upset stomachs, the flu, allergies, and more. When customers feel under the weather and would rather not leave their home, CVS delivers a physician to them and takes away a common paint point.
3. Please Customers With Intelligence
Just 16% of your consumers enjoy digital-only experiences. That’s because emotional intelligence is an important part of serving your customers, and automation isn’t built to deliver that.
When customers or potential customers get on the phone, it’s important for the brand rep to know what their concerns are, and to demonstrate emotional intelligence. Still, the only way to scale such personalized care is with data. Therefore, brands should use data platforms that show where consumers are in their purchase journey, getting the intelligence from past phone calls and clicks on websites and advertisements, for example.
These elements should include what product pages they’ve visited, what keywords they’ve searched for, and what ads they clicked on. Such a view of the customer journey enables reps to communicate one-to-one with an appropriate level of empathy.
4. Alleviate Stress To Build Loyalty
Real talk drives sales. In fact, retail customers greatly prefer person-to-person service (46%) compared with online service (35%), so brands shouldn’t merely offer a phone number as an option; instead, they should actually encourage customers to call the company.
Brands increasingly understand this reality. Furnishr, which lets you furnish your whole home without leaving your couch, practically insists people set up a phone consultation with one of its designers. In the financial category, TurboTax offers live video chats with a certified public accountant to help taxpayers who hit a filing snag. That’s a wise channel for TurboTax to leverage, given that financial services is the least likely category that consumers trust with AI. All in all, these and other successful modern brands offer human assistance to alleviate customers’ stress and turn them into loyal customers.
To keep your customers happy, it’s crucial to offer different channels of communication while arming your reps with all the data that’s relevant, so customers get the level of human assistance they need. If all brands made those ideas central to their customer experience, their customers would be far from frustrated or angry. Instead, they would be coming back for more.