The importance of being human in a digital world

When was the last time you used cash at the checkout? Ok, there may have been the odd occasion, but honestly, in the last 12 months, for me, only a handful. Digital payments just make the transaction easier, as well as cleaner. The only time I’ve needed cash is when trying to release the shopping trolly at the supermarket – very frustrating when you realise you have no coins in your pocket at the same time as you discover that you have left your mask at home.

Hopefully, mask wearing will soon be a distant memory but there are some positive ’side effects’ of the pandemic that I hope will have a lasting effect. Reducing commute times is one. Eliminating the need to go into a bank branch is another. Increasing my productivity by not having to travel to every meeting and reducing the senseless waste of time and resources is a boon to work-life balance and a healthier planet. But at what cost to human engagement and connection I wonder. Is that important?

Is there a danger that brands and banks take digitisation of services too far – or not far enough. I was surprised to discover that a major global bank was yet to make their remote face-to-face Covid financial advice process ‘BAU’ even though it has been more than 12 months in the proving and business has been booming. Customers like it! Other decisions are being taken more quickly. Bank branch rationalisation and closures continue to accelerate with transformation strategies that include conversion to cash only service, digital services or retaining full-service sites. Another initiative gaining momentum is the Remote Branch service – where all services currently being provided by a physical branch – account opening, loans, mortgages and advice – become available online and through remote telephony advisors.

We are heading fast to a cashless and very digital society. I now don’t know of any grandparent without a mobile or a tablet – the very elderly have had to become digital savvy very quickly or risk being side lined, left out or excluded. The compelling event was no doubt grocery shopping and click & collect; but with branch closures this will now have to extend to banking and financial services. But many are still not comfortable using credit cards online never mind accessing their banking services online. There is a clear need for banks to provide easy access and assistance where required.

The good news is humans can still play a critical role in delivering digital services.

Purely digital services on their own are proven to transform fulfilment, for example to support Bereavement, Mandate Maintenance, simple admin like change of address, marital status and are perfect to handle transactions. Human assisted digital services are proven to support selling online.

A purely digital service does not help with sales. When I buy a new phone I’m a hundred times more likely to add on accessories and insurance if I have someone selling me those add-on services. As soon as the product or service becomes more complex, customers need advice: Personal Loan, Mortgage, Wealth or Account advice. Selling these financial services without assistance through a purely digital service, is equivalent to ‘selling’ them on a comparison web site – a price race to the bottom.

A spin-off benefit of assisted digital is how the customer feels about the service. The difference in emotion or brand experience, measured in NPS terms, can be huge. How does the customer trust these different digital services? Is a bank with a branch network perceived to be more trustworthy than one without? First Direct positioned themselves as a telephony only bank, but customers could rely on HSBC’s network for some physical services and together with the security behind the brand made the telephony bank trustworthy. Purely digital fintechs don’t have that luxury but by adding human assistance into their digital services can go someway to overcoming it.

The importance of being human as we accelerate fast towards a digital future is key. With a nod to Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of being Earnest, where earnestness is the quality of being honest and open and acting with candour, banks, insurance companies, telcos and utilities can all benefit from adding human assistance into their digital sales processes in the knowledge that their purely digital fulfilment processes will be more likely to be trusted and adopted.

Article Written by Tony Heyworth, Head of Marketing at Vizolution

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