No doubt, the digital world is a critical part of promoting and maintaining your brand— websites, apps, email, social media, digital advertising and automated customer support systems all provide value and can improve targeting while reducing costs. Brands and branding are becoming more digital every minute.
But don’t forget the analog part of your brand, in particular, the importance of real-time human interaction. It’s been estimated that businesses now have just 1/20th the amount of direct person-to-person interaction compared to 25 years ago. Phone calls and meetings with clients have been replaced by emails, texts, or voicemail. Interactions with customer service often start with a simulated human asking for voice or keypad prompts and trying to direct you to an automated conclusion, where possible.
Is it just me, or does something ring inherently false when a recorded voice says, “We value you as our customer, so please select from the following options”?
Turns out, it’s not just me (which is a relief), and not just my generation (which I am stuck with). In a 2015 research report titled, “The Millennial Surprise,” Mattersight Corporation found that large percentages of this age group preferred person-to-person interaction over digital options in many instances. “Despite growing up in the digital age, millennials haven’t abandoned person-to-person contact,” said Mattersight CEO Kelly Conway in a PR Newser article. “Contrary to popular belief, we found that most millennials prefer to communicate in-person and over the phone because it allows them to have the most meaningful conversations.”
Some key findings from the survey of more than 1,000 millennials: 85 percent said that they prefer to meet and communicate in person with coworkers. The next most preferred means of communication at work was a virtual tie between email and phone.
Only one percent of the millennials surveyed preferred to contact a brand on social media for customer service purposes. Fifty-six percent indicated they would rather call a customer service number and talk to a real person. Another 25 percent preferred email contact.
Put another way, this rising generation of workers and consumers is, arguably, more social than ever, but prefers a substantial dose of human contact in the mix. As Mr. Conway noted, they see the most meaningful conversations coming in-person or by phone, not by Facebook or Twitter. Think what that means to the world of brands. While many companies may be seeking to digitize and automate their brand experience in the name of efficiency and reach, consumers of all generations are likely hungry for real humanity, and not a virtual version of it.
We don’t want to press # for more options. We want to speak to a real person about a problem, or maybe ask a question that we don’t quite know how to put into words that match the programming of a voice-recognition system. Companies and brands that provide a ready option of real-time human contact may well establish a stronger loyalty than those that resist it.
A real wild card in this continued desire for human interaction is the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence systems. Look for these devices—like Echo from Amazon—to attempt to imitate human interactions better than ever before. Of course, we’ll know it isn’t real so we’ll still favor real people, right? Right? (Please press 1 if you agree, or 2 if you disagree, press 3 if you…)