The Human-Centric Approach

The Most Critical Element of an Amazing Customer Experience is Being Human-Centric

Today, we are living in the “digital disruption era.” Technological innovations are exploding with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). As an entrepreneur, like so many, I have become enamored with the potential of what AI can do. And, while every business is rushing to capitalize on the innovation and benefits of this new frontier, they need to pay attention to the most critical aspect of any customer experience: being human-centric.

While these advances are convenient, they have also changed how we communicate, behave, and think, dramatically decreasing our people skills. As a society, we are now relationship disadvantaged, which has led to record lows in overall customer satisfaction across all industries.

“In the digital revolution, excellent human interaction skills become a premium advantage.”

Blending Human centricity with AI

The best customer service organizations recognize the competitive opportunity of using technology to perform basic jobs, enabling employees to focus on what is most important: building relationships that result in higher customer loyalty, retention, lifetime value, and job satisfaction.

Unfortunately, the obsession with advancements in technology by many businesses has dramatically decreased the focus and emphasis on training their customer-facing employees to build rapport, show empathy and compassion, and treat the customer like a real person.

How to be Human First, a Professional Second

The pendulum has swung over to high tech and low touch. Consequently, we long for a sense of community, belonging, and purpose, a world in which people know our name, what we do, what is important to us, and trust one another. Trust has become an endangered value. Those who understand that human touch is essential to any experience—especially a great customer experience—will flourish.
Personally and professionally, success is increasingly about creating and building human connections.

Human interaction, compassion, empathy, and communication skills become a premium advantage in the digital revolution.

The most memorable customer experiences are the ones where an emotional connection was made, where both customer and employee felt something.

Kristin Smaby underscores that approach in her article, “Being Human Is Good Business.” She says, “In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from costly interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself.”

client success

High Tech Meets High Touch

Consider a different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology.

human-centric design

So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. The Relationship Economy is a critical necessity in a world of digital disruption as companies try to figure out the new reality of human and machine interactions in designing their customer experience.

*RelatedWhy Men are the Most Relationship Disadvantaged

One priority in this evolution is keeping the customer at the center of all your decisions. “With the pace and stresses of most lives, people want to pass along their emotional burden to another human, one they trust understands their needs and will work to resolve an issue,” says Joshua Feast, the CEO of Cogito, an AI and behavioral analytics company.

Beware of the Human Connection Becoming Increasingly Rare

We are all social creatures and innately need relationships. The businesses that work at knowing their client as a person with family, concerns, and dreams will be the ones who dominate their industries. As Richard Shapiro notes in his book The Endangered Customer, “The human spirit can’t be separated from human transactions and interactions—nor should it be. Customers do not want their lives filled with endless robotic encounters.  Automated transactions have become faster, easier, and more reliable, making the human connection will become increasingly rare—and therefore increasingly more valuable.”  There is a case for human-centric AI.

He adds, “Those companies that will continue to deliver personalized service will create and sustain relationships that will positively impact bottom-line revenues and profitability. Organizations can meet these new challenges by employing technology that can be used to enhance, not diminish, the relationship.”

*Related – How to Create an Emotional Connection in a Digital World

Learning to build a culture of connection is more important than ever.  Training employees to develop the people skills necessary to build relationships is essential to their and your customer’s well-being. Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, released an advisory on how the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” is negatively impacting millions of people across the country. “In recent years, about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. It’s not surprising the Surgeon General has declared loneliness an epidemic.

Human-Centric Soft Skills Training to Providing an Exceptional Customer Experience

In the past, soft skills had a reputation for being nice to have in business. However, studies have shown that strong soft skills boost employee productivity and retention by 12% and deliver a 250% return on investment. Another study reported that emotional intelligence skills make up nearly 90% of the attributes that set high-performing leaders apart.

Leaders can’t find employee candidates with good soft skills.

While these skills seem like basic expectations of individuals in the workforce, one study showed that nearly 60% of leaders in the U.S. believe it’s challenging to find candidates with soft skills. That is why it is a burden for companies and the training they provide to develop these constantly. “Quit calling them ‘soft skills’; nothing is soft about them. They are ‘human skills,’” says author Simon Sinek. It is time for businesses to consider a human-centric HR Strategy.

Examples of critical soft (human-centric) skills employees need to be trained on:

  • Compassion & empathy
  • Enthusiastically engaging and warm
  • Charitable assumption
  • Service recovery
  • Rapport & relationship building

How many hours do you train new employees before they can start interacting with your customers? It may be two days, two weeks, one month. Whatever it is, now do that math. Calculate how many hours are technical training, such as product knowledge, processing orders, scheduling appointments, etc., versus customer experience training, such as customer service vision, non-negotiable standards, building customer rapport, service recovery, etc.? Many businesses spend 98-100% of training on the technical part of the job and breeze over their customer service philosophy because they think it is common sense.

*RelatedHow to Train Your Employees to be Great at Relationship Building

It all comes down to service aptitude training. If today’s younger generation lacks the skills gained from human-centric interactions, who is responsible for improving their people skills and increasing their service aptitude? The businesses that hire them! We need to have better training programs, not just training on product knowledge and the technical side of the job, but also training & certification on the soft skills. Companies that deliver world-class customer service understand this and provide training in customer service skills.

Training to Build Relationships is More Vital Than Ever in the Business World

Amazon has disrupted nearly all retail businesses—grocery stores, health insurance, banks, home security, entertainment, pharmacies, and shipping—and continues expanding into other fields. Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry, and Netflix wiped out video rental stores.

No business is safe. In the past, cutting-edge innovation had a much longer shelf life in overcoming competition. However, many of your competitors can replicate your innovations and quickly reduce any temporary advantage you had in the market. The answer cannot just be about technology, either. To be sure, technological advancements are critical to every business staying relevant. However, technology by itself is not a differentiator. The more you place technology between the company and the customer, the more you remove the human experience.

Technology Cannot Provide “Genuine” Hospitality

People crave human interaction, which is why companies need to consider a human-centric approach. Customers desire recognition and a personalized experience; technology can never be empathetic. It cannot express empathy, make people feel cared for, express emotions and vulnerability in a relatable way, or make people smile and laugh. Technology will never understand the values of kindness, much less come close to adding the human touch to a customer’s experience. In short, technology cannot provide genuine hospitality.

For anyone and any business to thrive in the future, they will have to train their people on soft skills to master the art of relationship building.

“Our careers, our companies, our relationships, and indeed our very lives succeed or fail, gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”


Podcast of the Week, Ep 151:  Welcome to The Employee Experience Revolution
If you’ve ever felt like your work environment was stifling your potential, that’s the spark that ignited a revolution—one that John’s co-author, Dave Murray, and John explore in this episode of The Customer Service Revolution Podcast.

Video of the Week: Are you modeling the behavior you want others to do?

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About The Author

John DiJulius

John R. DiJulius is a best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on Customer experience trends and best practices.