Can businesses be digital-first without losing the human touch?

As the ability to automate increases, businesses are starting to lose the human touch when it comes to engaging their customers.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in the development and adoption of ‘smart’ technologies, but this is not without its challenges.

With automation and digital tools, businesses may be able to continue operating, but many do so at the cost of losing the human touch.

For digital-first organizations, the challenge of the hour is to not only leverage technology in a way that allows them to better understand and serve customers, but also to build a more approachable brand image that customers and potential customers connect with. 

MartechAsia looked for some answers as to how this can be achieved in this interview with Sunil Thomas, Co-Founder & CEO, CleverTap, a mobile marketing platform that has been working with several leading brands across the globe to help them develop more relevant and humanized digital engagement strategies.

Sunil Thomas, Co-Founder & CEO, CleverTap

Automation and AI technologies have been a major help for businesses during pandemic lockdown and social distancing measures. But how could organizations retain the human touch while adopting technology solutions?

The pandemic has increased people’s desire to stay connected — and users today want to engage with brands that don’t just treat them as transactions, but as the unique individuals that they are. As technology becomes more interspersed with our daily lives, one way that brands can achieve the human touch in digital experiences is through personalisation.

Modern technologies like AI play a huge role in enabling personalised experiences by providing timely and actionable insights on user behavior, predicting trends and making accurate recommendations. For instance, AI can predict the best time to interact with a specific user based on their affinity to respond to messages or engage with the app.

This allows businesses to create a highly individualised form of engagement, also known as the ‘segment of one’. This level of service makes customers feel like a brand truly understands and cares for their needs, which ultimately paves the way to build deeper connections between the brand and users.

Both solution providers and users have a role to play in balancing innovation with empathy. What key considerations and steps should they take?

Innovation does not need to be in conflict with empathy. In fact, every great innovation – be it the iPod, ride-sharing services or the AirBnB model – has come from a place of empathy, when businesses placed themselves in the end users’ shoes to truly understand their desires and decision-making.

In the world of brands, personalization is the key to being empathetic. Technologies such as bleeding edge AI, which represent innovation of a high order, can today be used to figure out the context and intent of any given user behaviour. This information allows brands to go beyond just a superficial grasp of consumer interests, which can be used to personalize their app experience and drive empathy for every user.

Technology exists to improve some aspects of our lives, and it is something that both solution providers and their end-users (businesses) need to bear in mind. It is merely the means to an end, and when driven by genuine empathy, it can help us innovate more quickly and ultimately sell more products, satisfy more customers, and generate higher revenues.

What role does data play in helping businesses better understand and meet customer needs?

Think of data as a sort of knowledge center – it provides crucial context with regards to the customer lifecycle to help businesses develop hyper-personalised engagement. It can not only tell you what you should be communicating with your customer, but also when customers want or need to hear from you, how best to communicate with them.

For instance, consider a customer at an ecommerce app who browses shirts, but doesn’t make a purchase. Maybe he is unable to find the exact shirt he’s looking for. Here, solutions like CleverTap’s Product Recommendation can work wonders, by using AI to organize the customer’s most recent browsing behavior and formulate recommendations specific to the shopper’s tastes.

With accurate and timely data, businesses can move beyond clickbaits, mass offers and discounts to a more nuanced and holistic engagement approach, which will improve their user experience and retention. And in today’s mobile first world, historic data alone isn’t good enough.  The ability to track, use and react to data in real time is a true competitive advantage that not only helps businesses to provide more relevant recommendations to existing customers, but also creates timely opportunities to engage with new users.

How should organizations develop a personalized approach to better engage and retain customers?

There are two parts to developing a personalized approach that better engages and retains customers. The first is understanding the specific needs of each customer by leveraging the insights that can be gleaned from user behavior data.

The second involves applying these insights to create more personalized communications with customers – this goes beyond merely addressing them by name. Brands should use behavioural analytics to uncover insights about each customer and use this to provide actionable recommendations at the right time.

While a personalised, one-to-one marketing approach is the goal, not all brands have the resources to implement it. A more feasible way is through market segmentation, which allows brands to mark different target audiences based on demographics, interests or behaviour, and present them with the most appropriate messaging for their segment.

What are some best practices for building a brand image that consumers feel truly connected with?

Building long-lasting relationships and creating a positive brand image in the minds of consumers starts pretty early in the life cycle. Getting users to download an app can be tricky, but getting them to actually use an app consistently is significantly harder – in fact, 73 percent of new users churn (delete the app) within one week of downloading. Creating a user-friendly, stand-out onboarding experience is key to winning over new app users and retaining them for the long haul.

To hold onto current users, apps need to optimize the onboarding process. For instance, in the fintech industry, it’s important to establish a sense of trust and security with users as quickly as possible. Letting users try an app on a “demo” basis before asking them to register for an account creates an opportunity to prove your app’s value, while signaling to users that you care deeply about their experience.

The work doesn’t stop once users have been successfully onboarded. Brands and apps must continue to engage users and keep them coming back by consistently showing value in every aspect of the app’s UX. Apps that nail the end-to-end customer experience from onboarding to a continued value exchange will have tremendous success in engaging and retaining users.

Beyond this, brands can also create more meaningful connections with consumers through targeted content. This will allow each user to not only keep the brand top of mind, but also reassure customers that they are understood and heard. In the long run, this goes a long way in creating enduring brand value and loyalty.