Retailers are falling over each other to show us as customers, their omni-channel capabilities. We increasingly want products from retail brands exactly where, when and how it’s convenient for us. And retailers are all jostling for position as they try to win our hearts as the one who can meet our increasing expectations.

As the smartphone has become the remote control of our lives, the focus of retailers is now almost exclusively on digitising their services. But are we in danger of forgetting the basics and the magic of the human touch? It goes a long way for retail customers and how we decide to buy, or not to buy…

Consumer behaviour over the past year indicates that the laser focus of retailers to create seamless, friction-free cross-channel experiences is no longer cutting the mustard. As John Lewis CIO, Paul Coby recently said, knowing yourself as a company is vital – you must uncover what customers really want from YOU specifically, not from your competitors.  What this means for retailers is that super slick transactional experiences are now an expectation. Alone, they will not be enough to differentiate you from the increasing competition.

While convenience and choice remain a given, consumer habits indicate that retailers have focussed too much on digitisation. This is perhaps surprising when you consider today’s ‘anytime, anywhere’ customer and how far technology is now embedded into our lives. However hard retailers try to make themselves more human through personalisation, conversations with machines are often considered just too transactional.

As customers, we’re increasingly looking for digital experiences with human behaviour and emotion. We want to feel connected to the brands that we’re considering buying from, so we can feel confident that they understand our needs and that our experience will go further than a one-off transaction. According to eConsultancy, 84% of customers’ buying decisions are influenced by online research and feedback. And when you consider that an emoji is all it takes to say it all 😟, it’s easy to see that yours are too.

In order to win and retain our loyalty, retailers need to tap into the magic of the human touch and incorporate it into the digital experience we are getting from them. The Burberry Kisses campaign is a great example of this. Burberry let us send personalised messages to our loved ones online, sealed with our own kisses: ‘send your kiss, watch it fly 3D through the city’.  All over the world, customers have engaged in a conversation that surprised and delighted them. The campaign connected with us on a human level, transferring the emotional connection we felt between each other to the Burberry brand.

Nowhere is the human connection more important than the after-sales process. With their Genius Bars and full service stores, Apple set the bar high with their after-sales customer care. Net-a-Porter’s slick and suave delivery and returns process for online purchases brings to mind the exotic feel of the black-clad Milk Tray mystery man. It alludes to the in-store experience by using designer shopping bags rather than your typical cardboard delivery box. To return an item to Asos, we can have our packages picked up from home for free – the ultimate in convenience: making us feel that Asos understands how busy we are.

Retailers need to look at their customers as partners, as collaborators. Their most loyal customers should be their BFF’s (Best Friends Forever). Connecting with your customers is power – it cannot be underestimated. In Starbucks, we can pay for our coffees with our smartphones, but our coffees are handed to us with our name handwritten on the cup. Regulars often see a 😀 after their name. It may seem quaint, but this order system effectively bridges the gap between customer and retailer, creating an emotional connection that you just don’t get at Costa. But as they digitise more and more of their operational front-line tasks, how will Starbucks keep the magic of the human touch alive?

Retailers must look to their people to do this. They should be focussing their people on creating truly superior and differentiated consumer experiences in new ways – ways that customers want. For example, now that Argos has shifted their focus to convenience, 42% of their online sales are click and collect. Coupled with opening stores across the London Underground, Argos has really understood their customer, bringing click and collect to them exactly where and when they want it.

Omni-channel retail cannot give us the seamless customer experience we want through digitisation alone. But, by combining digitisation with high quality and meaningful human interaction, retailers can start to smooth over the seams. Most important to doing this is empowering their people with meaningful data, giving them the vital information they need to design appropriate activity to bridge the gap between digital and human elements. Retailers should be looking to surprise and delight their customers, creating an emotional connection with them, enticing them to want to see their retail BFF again and again.

This means digital and operations teams working collaboratively on joint initiatives. In the short term, it’s inevitable that this will force a sometimes uncomfortable clash of old and new across stores and online, but if retailers are to survive, they must make all their customer touch points more human. When combined with operational or transactional digital prowess, this will fast become their USP. So retailers, don’t be shy – show us your human side… get personal and seal it with a kiss x

To talk to us about how we can help you connect the dots between your digital and human customer experiences, please contact us here.