None of us volunteered for it, but we’ve all been a part of a global customer experience prototyping exercise. Locked down in our homes, with severely limited or zero physical interaction with other humans. All the while digital platforms or services increasingly became a lifeline rather than just a pastime. 

How would we all cope?

As the lead of Tribal’s CX practice, I have spent the past few years espousing the ever-increasing importance of considering the convergence of physical and digital experiences that shaped our clients’ businesses. Only to be confronted with a situation where those physical experiences were pretty much eradicated.

Obviously, circumstances were different for key workers and those that had little choice but to continue going out to work. However, I think all of us have had pause for thought about connecting and communicating with other people, about how we use digital services and about our relationships with businesses and brands both locally and further afield. The regular person on the street might not have considered it as such, but I believe we have all been compelled to evaluate the balance and quality of human and digital touchpoints.

In the UK, many who had never considered buying anything on the internet were looking to buy their weekly shop online. Those who had online grocery accounts felt pretty smug there, for a minute, until they saw that every delivery slot was booked for weeks ahead.

Online grocery specialists OCADO received an unprecedented adrenaline shot, “as a result of Covid-19 we have seen years of growth in the online grocery market condensed into a matter of months; and we won’t be going back,” said Ocado chief executive Tim Steiner, in an interview with CITY AM.

One could see that for every business that had only dabbled in digital, the ability to transact online was now an urgent consideration, not an experiment. There is no going back. Digital touchpoints, that may have been considered enhancements, can no longer be viewed or invested in as secondary workstreams.

At a local level particularly, I have witnessed first-hand as business models were reinvented and new partnerships formed. Within a week or two of lockdown, a local restaurant set up a table outside their premises selling basic groceries like flour and eggs – leveraging their trade suppliers who saw their B2B clients rapidly shutdown and loyal staff committed to keeping the business afloat and their jobs alive.

News got around and villagers quickly formed a line, relishing the human interaction of those inventive staff; at 2 metres of course. A week later, they had adapted the website, which had historically been just a simple online menu, to enable a click-and-collect service. The next week, they went further and started home delivery of meals. They have repeatedly evolved ever since. Their determination to develop digital touchpoints and leverage a passionate brigade of staff has also transformed the standing of this business in the community.

Just Eat have only a handful of restaurants in my village. Their service reported 33 percent growth in online order YOY in April and May. In the tiny instance I’ve described, neither a big brand with massive ad campaigns nor a monolithic software giant was involved, but this was truly iterative customer experience innovation all-the-same. A hyper local example of successfully balancing human and digital touchpoints.

The best instances of this balancing act see technology enhancing and supporting humans, and humans enhancing digital experiences. As an example of the former, we have developed a whole suite of digital tools for Volkswagen UK retailers connecting them with their customers online activity and making a much more satisfying dealership experience as a result.

Noel Lyons of Barclays talks compellingly about their digital assistant and how identifying when and how the hand-off to human call centre staff has been critical to overall success. Using the tools and technology available to create the optimal total experience is something customers are increasingly coming to expect, even if that is as simple as an app-based chat function rather than sitting on hold to make a minor change to their bank account. This then has the dual benefit of freeing up call centre phone lines to deal with the most urgent or complex customer requests.

Digital experiences are constantly improving and the love affair with them continues for many of us, with smartphones now one of the most prolific pieces of technology in history. However, I’m inclined to think the importance of human touchpoints is in the ascendant. And with metres and masks between us all, they will need to be completely re-evaluated and reimagined.

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