In the past decade, brands have invested heavily in digital and mobile experiences that reduce friction and let customers do more on their terms.

Today, it’s possible to have Alexa summon a Lyft and design a pair of custom Nikes without leaving the house.

But in this era of mobile-first, do-it-yourself, digitally-driven experiences, some brands have forgotten that consumers still need a helping hand. At a time when expectations are high and stress thresholds are low, companies risk losing consumer trust by neglecting human connection.

The angst of being on your own 

Digital self-service makes a lot of sense. Consumers can make purchases and resolve simple issues without waiting in line or on hold; tasks that previously took hours are completed in seconds. Meanwhile, self-service allows brands to focus more on innovation, creative marketing, and new digital experiences and less on interacting directly with customers. It has changed the way we shop and the way we live — often for the better.

Self-service has also raised consumers’ expectations for seamless, simple, and personalized experiences. A study by Accenture found that around half of customers who have a poor experience with a brand will stop doing business with that company entirely.

The stakes are exceptionally high for considered purchases like mortgages, investments, insurance, travel or cars, and there is an opportunity for brands to extend a human hand to help consumers when they need it most, and help calm the angst that the digital self-service world can cause.

There is hope in human interaction

Self-service in ecommerce is here to stay, but to provide a truly personalized experience for consumers, that human touch has to be there when consumers need it. For example, I use TurboTax to get my taxes done quickly and economically. That is, until a few years ago when my tax picture got a little trickier.

I got to a point in TurboTax where I had entered all the necessary information, but I had a few specific questions that made me too anxious to file without bringing in an accountant. In the end, I had to shell out a few thousand bucks to answer two questions, which seemed like overkill for what I wanted — a few concrete pieces of expert advice. 

But last year, TurboTax added the ability to chat with a tax professional within its online experience. Again, I had a couple of burning questions that I needed answered, but this time I just clicked on the chat button and for about $50, I was able to have an instant video chat with a tax professional, in real-time. It put me at ease, it was simple, and it saved me thousands of dollars.

In such cases, there is nothing that builds confidence like talking to an expert. Research we have done at Invoca found that when looking into a complicated purchase, 39% of people prefer to speak with an expert advisor, compared to 25% who prefer to search online. We also learned that 35% of consumers opt for the human touch of a phone call when their purchase exceeds $500.

Whether it happens over live chat, in-app video conference, or a phone call, human interaction cannot be replaced by even the most sophisticated AI. But to get this interaction right, marketers should create experiences that close sales while building trust.

Give customers control, but be there when they need you

Your customers should have control over how they complete their transactions. Whether it’s on the phone, online, in-store or a combination of the above, making it simple and seamless for customers to choose their channel anywhere along the journey will reduce their anxiety. Like TurboTax offering instant access to expert advice, it’s comforting just knowing that someone is there if you need them and that they won’t bother you if you don’t. 

For example, Eastern European bank TBC extended this flexible approach beyond just the phone and online. It increased loan approvals by 40% by giving customers the opportunity to finish their applications at ATMs and kiosks after starting them on the phone.

Bonobos takes it even further by capturing data in any scenario—in-store, phone, email, live chat—and letting customers finish purchases on any channel. If you try on a shirt in a Bonobos store but don’t purchase it, a phone or live chat rep will know already about the styles and sizes you want.

The retailer taps a healthy mix of internal talent to make its omnichannel game seamless, crowdsourcing ideas from engineers, data scientists, store guides and online chat reps. This collective has led the digital-native brand, among many initiatives, to bypass checkout counters in stores, where its average order size is twice that of online orders.

What powers Bonobos sales is that customers—as long as they provide their email address—are never without their shopping data. This fluidity alleviates one of consumers’ biggest pain points—starting over conversations with a brand about what they are looking to purchase. 

In the food category, Butterball is an example of the power of combining technology with a personal touch. During the holidays, the brand enlists a team of 50 turkey specialists who counsel nervous cooks nationwide via email, text and online chat. These specialists field around 10,000 customer inquiries each season, and 75% of its customers prefer a one-to-one phone call over digital-only channels.

As anyone who has taken on the obligations of Thanksgiving chef knows, cooking the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal for a big crowd can be quite a stress-inducing experience.

It’s clear that TBC, Bonobos and Butterball are building brand affinity and trust by eliminating consumer frustrations. In the current climate of angst, a personal touch is priceless.

Digital self-service isn’t going anywhere, and that’s a good thing. But we still face the challenge of countering consumer wariness and distrust that will continue to be as pervasive as the data leaks and corporate misconduct that sow it. It is an opportunity for marketers to rebuild consumer trust and foster positive relationships by providing the human touch and personalized experiences that put customers at ease.

Econsultancy offers training in improving customer experiences, as well as a Best Practice Guide to CXM (click below).

customer experience management best practice guide (subscriber only)