Getting the Right Mix of Human and Digital CX

Digital tools and technology have become more relevant than ever in transforming the customer experience. But where does that leave the human element? In this panel discussion, we explore how brands can find the right mix of human and digital when it comes to CX, and what trends are on the horizon.


  • Morana Bakula, VP, Customer Experience, Bond Brand Loyalty
  • Tanya Faulds, Manager, Marketing Operations & Customer Experience Design, Enercare Inc.
  • Stephan Sigaud, SVP Marketing & Business Development, Kantar TNS Canada

What matters most in CX: the human element, technology, or both?

Tanya Faulds: Consumers want to experience a bit of both. Not everybody trusts technology, especially when it comes to privacy and personal information. There is still that trust factor with the human element. At Enercare, a lot of our older customers still prefer human conversation and a personal touch when it comes to their home services.

Stephan Sigaud: From my standpoint, the ideal is a balance between the human touch and the technology. When I order something from Amazon, for example, I can have it delivered same day thanks to technology – and that is a rational benefit I enjoy, and it comes with a handwritten note that personalizes the interaction and is an emotional benefit I enjoy at least as much. That to me is the ideal because as a consumer, I benefit from both the technology and the human on the other side of that technology.

Morana Bakula: I have a bias towards the human because technology has taken the primary seat in driving customer experience for brands but with marginal improvements on impacting one of the biggest drivers of CX - emotion.  I feel the human side is a differentiator that over recent years hasn’t had as much attention as Digital.  If I remove my bias, I agree the right answer is the right blend of both.

What is your take on concepts like Amazon Go, a high-tech supermarket that is largely automated?

Bakula: I’ll use a personal example to answer this. Every Saturday, I go to Longo’s with my three-and-a-half-year-old twin daughters. I always use the pink princess car or police car, since these carts can seat both kids. One Saturday, neither were available and by the time we got to checkout I faced a dilemma – they would be running wild an free while I tried to check off my grocery list.  We managed to make it to checkout and as a reward my daughters earned Kinder Eggs, but the Kinder Eggs were at another checkout, and I was in the shortest line. As I thought about whether or not to leave the line, or have my daughters get the treats themselves, the floor supervisor came over and asked, “Would you like me to take them over for you?” He read my mind in that moment.

Then, as I was thinking about how I was going to safely get the cart and my kids across the parking lot, the cashier asked me if I would like carryout service. The experience differentiation was entirely in the human interaction. It is for this reason I choose Longo’s and accept the premium price that comes with generally commoditized products.  As I think about Amazon’s approach, there is something that is so critically important in that human interaction, the ability for a human being to read another human being, and provide that tailored experience.

Sigaud: That’s a fantastic example of the need for the human touch. At the same time, it shows the opportunity, especially for retail organizations, to segment their customers and have solutions that are appropriate for each different type of customer. There are a ton of people who don’t have a need for a premium experience, or can’t afford it. You have to be mindful about who you want to serve and make sure your CX strategy enables you to meet that audience’s needs.

Bakula: Still, I would argue that no matter the demographic, you are always serving a human being. I firmly believe that only a human will be able to read that customer in that moment, and be able to cater to them in that known way, which is ultimately what consumers crave.

How do brands create the right mix of human and digital for a differentiated customer experience?

Faulds: I look at Nordstrom as a great example. If you’ve shopped there before, your profile is entered into the system, so when you walk in the door, they know exactly who you are and there are personal shoppers to help you. Further to that, if you’re looking to buy shoes, they have a 3D foot scanner that matches you with the perfect pair of shoes without even needing to try them on. I think it’s a great example of how brands can use technology to enhance the customer experience.

Bakula: I agree that technology is an enhancement, not a replacement. As brands try to find the right balance between human and digital, the goal is to figure out the ultimate value of each in a particular customer touch point, and which element would enhance the experience more.  One thing we have observed as a trend is a handoff between human and AI. For example, a company named Vida provides health coaching using an app. It is both human and digital support and the combination provides a great service with efficiency and scale.

Sigaud: Not only do brands need to know their customers, they need to know what they want to promise their customers. We see a number of organizations that want to put customer experience research programs and metrics in place without having a goal. So again, know your customers and know yourself. Know what you want to be to your customers first.

What CX trends will define 2017 and beyond?

Faulds:  We're hearing more about chatbots being utilized as a customer service tool for brands and  as well as being incorporated into CRM systems. It could be something as simple as a customer attempting to find the closest store location and its hours, or an airline allowing passengers to check flight times and access their boarding pass through Facebook Messenger, like KLM Airlines. Beyond that, some FinTechs are using AI chatbots to help onboard new customers and provide instantaneous answers as users are now looking for immediate responses from brands to their questions.  It's a developing trend that will really take hold in 2017. 

Sigaud: Artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role. AI will be leveraged as a means to make sense of the massive amount of data that is available to companies and turn it into something that not only delivers analysis, but also delivers a product or a service to an individual. That might be a bit beyond 2017, but it’s coming.

Bakula: My predication goes beyond 2017 as well. As AI takes over some of the human elements, I believe consumers will begin to pay a premium for a human interaction. There will be a pendulum swing in the other direction. You can see this happening with the notion of authenticity. Even today, we pay a premium to have a handcrafted cup of coffee. We pay a premium to have a dining room table made from real, distressed wood versus something that comes off of a 3-D printer.  This notion of craving a more authentic experience will translate into craving more human interaction as we push the boundaries on technology.

These are exciting times and this topic is just beginning to take form. There will undoubtedly be a new vocabulary and discipline created around this very topic. Some organizations will likely go to the extremes of AI, but as we’ve seen with other new trends the best course of action is generally one that is balanced.  As you think about how to start leveraging these new technologies consider:

  1. What is the outcome you are trying to achieve?
  2. What customer experience are you trying to solve for (remove a pain or create a wow moment)?
  3. What do you gain with the implementation of a new technology? What do you lose? What is the benefit?
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Tags: cx, customer experience, brands, human, digital, technology