By Colin Jowell

Second to the promise of amazing data that would predict your every move, the biggest promise of technology has to be the notion of “digital self serve”.  The promise is seductive - a set and forget scalable nirvana. Like Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams”, you can build it and they will come - the rest will be the stuff of legend.

But will they? Recent data suggests not. A study by SDL suggests that of great customer experiences, only 7% are created by technology alone - 42% are created by people, and 49% created by the combination of people and technology. It’s intuitively true because the combination of people and symbiotic technology gives your people a consistent script, and an appearance of credibility they might otherwise lack. And people can give technology a sense of cut through and connection that you just can’t get from tapping at a screen.

Why then are we building so much with the promise of self-service? The answer lies in the decision-making process that underpins so much innovation in today’s businesses. Your average CFO is quite likely to believe that you can strip out people with technology, but is far more cynical about the potential to create engagement and growth. So the projects that focus on cost-out win over ones that focus on the upside.

Is this too cynical a view? Engagement is, after all, a fuzzy nebulous marketing word that is hard to measure. But the variability of the human factor has plagued service and retail businesses for decades, and has a hard figure attached to it.

So what’s the solution then? It comes back to a thorough understanding of your customer journey and reviewing two things at a quantitative and measurable level:

  1. Where are your customers falling out of the purchase funnel? How can you focus your technology to help your people prevent that from happening?  A common example of this is “choice overload” – where companies present customers with too much to select from in a desire to offer them more personalized solutions.
  2. Where are you making money?  How can you create technology to help your people do that easier?  If you’re making your money from cross sell, have you built that into your experience, or are you relying on customers to get there by themselves? Again, people and tech working in harmony here can work incrementally better than either solution alone.

There is always a place for digital self serve. It is fantastic in situations where customers really don’t want to interact with other people. But we’re still a way off from asking a piece of technology if something suits us, and truly accepting the response in the same way we do when it comes from a flirtatious sales person. In the rush to enhance customer experience and modernize our processes we often forget the power of human interaction (even more powerful when it’s woven together with technology).

That's what drives brilliant customer experience in all but 7% of cases, and you can tell that to your CFO - the data doesn’t lie!