Don’t Sacrifice Human Relationships in the Name of Digital Transformation

As 2020 approaches, it seems our attachment to digital devices and technologies has developed into something of a sixth sense: see, hear, smell, touch, taste—and now tap. We work, read, shop, connect and much more, all via our mobile devices.

This adoption of digital technologies has enabled the creation of new brands, experiences and markets around the globe, and they’ve expanded industries and enterprises along the way. They’ve also disrupted entire industries by enabling innovative service delivery and instantaneous access to everything.

In the process, people have come to expect instant gratification everywhere. If you don’t deliver it, they will simply move on and often forget any value your brand might have provided in the past. 

Most companies who began digital accept and are anchored in this truth, but many traditional companies are still trying to catch up. Marketers are now being challenged to be always-on drivers of brand engagement, new customer acquisition, CRM, loyalty and ultimately, lifetime value, rather than just running campaigns that turn on and off.

A formula for growth

The challenge at the enterprise level is to approach digital transformation as an opportunity for unlocking growth by delivering a higher level of customer experience, what we call Elevating the Human Experience. This is to suggest going beyond marketing in a purely transactional mindset and thinking about ways businesses can build trust through digital transparency and more seamless human experience.

Yet, in an environment fueled by forecasts of slowing economic growth and optimism, many CFOs and COOs prefer to frame the investment in digital transformation and automation as a pure path to efficiency and cost-cutting.

Their premise? If you can’t find enough revenue growth in your category, then perhaps you should get busy leveraging digital technologies to automate processes and cut costs everywhere you can, including interactions with your most valuable asset: the people who buy your products.

Unfortunately, many of these efficiency-led digital transformations often ignore the human impact on customers. They might find their efficiency target, but they often end up actually increasing the distance between the customer and the company. The human connection actually becomes less frequent due in part to automation.

Unfortunately, this approach can have extraordinary downstream reverberations on employees, prospects and customers.

Appreciating the phenomenon requires a bit of behavioral economic orientation.

When people repeatedly behave in a certain way, it’s commonly known as a “heuristic,” or a human behavioral norm. In the age of consumerism, brands are expected to consistently deliver on certain human behaviors and personalities, like having a person to call if you are unsatisfied with the product or service.

In the digital economy, making a human connection isn’t so easy. Ever try to get a purely digital company on the phone? It’s often just software—there’s no human. Yet, marketers are proclaiming digital victory for a new era of customer-first experiences.

Unfortunately, the less prominent real human interactions become, the more distance there is between people and businesses. This often results in less trust, less empathy and less potential for long-term value.

Striking a balance

Today’s companies need to balance digital transformation with human relationships. At Deloitte, this is referred to as the elevation of the human experience.

Finding the right balance between digital automation and human relationships is essential. Emerging technologies like AI, cognitive computing and RPA are good at rational tasks, but they are not so good at creativity and empathy.

To craft a more holistic human experience, brands must combine these qualities.

To us, it’s crucial to help businesses improve their internal processes but not purely at the expense of helping them advance relationships between them, their employees and their customers.

If more marketers are able to help companies excel at both the digital and human things, they’ll be more than just growth drivers. They’ll deliver more human experiences that will help sustain the business for decades to come.