Why digital plus human equals great customer experience

Steven is a Professor at Vlerick Business School and runs his own inspiration and coaching company, B-Conversational. He has worked with some of Europe’s leading brands [Philips, ABInBev, Landrover] to help them develop a human “face” and evolve into true Conversation Companies, where all communication reflects the DNA of the organisation.


If you listen to many experts, around one in two jobs in Europe is under threat from automation. In the digital world huge companies are able to service millions of customers with only a handful of staff, and the level of digitalisation will only increase, so what does this mean for the future of relationships between customers and companies?

While some books are predicting an end to the human face of companies, I am convinced that in 15 years’ time it will actually be the human touch that makes all the difference in the customer relationship and can actually create a competitive advantage.

With all the hype around digital transformation, people are focusing too little on how to create added value by using our people, their best advantage.

The emotional component

As well as optimising their digital interface, companies should define their human interface and think about the things that computers cannot do: emotion.

Computers are good at rational processes, but when it comes to emotion and creativity, humans shine, and companies must use these qualities to develop a balanced, complementary and successful customer relationship where digital and human elements complement each other.

Emotion forms the basis of our memories, and if companies are able to touch an emotional chord, they will be able to find a place in their customer’s memories. The objective of the human-customer relationship is to add emotion to the equation, which can improve financial results, public perception, staff commitment and customer loyalty.

Three human advantages

To date, computers have never been capable of creating something new. All the world’s innovation has been created by people, so creativity is therefore a uniquely human quality that computers cannot match. Nor are computers able to display emotions, or empathy.

Finally, there is passion – it is infectious and inspirational, and people love other passionate people in a way that computers can never match.


Some managers fear that ‘big data’ will limit their own right to be creative, but precisely the opposite is true. Data alone is worth very little, but it is the way creative people use the data that generates innovation and added value.

Smart companies allow human creativity to blossom in all phases of the customer relationship. If you allow all your staff to think creatively about improvements that can benefit the customer it can have both large and small scale benefits.

I always advise business leaders to manage the creativity of a company proactively – the need for creative talent is only likely to increase in the near future so it is important to take the first steps now, and recruit creative people for every element (communication, product development, bookkeeping, sales, etc.) of the customer relationship.


Empathy is a reaction between people, and as such it is a quality that no computer has ever even heard of. The rational parts of our brain are a thousand times easier to duplicate in artificial intelligence than the emotional parts, so the sharing of happiness and sadness will not be possible in computers for many years to come.

This human characteristic is extremely powerful in a customer relationship, as customers respond well to operatives who show understanding and sympathy, and being openly happy for a customer creates a bond.

People want to share their emotions – just think about when someone buys a new car, while it is a really special day to them, it is just another day at work for the salesman, but a salesman who can contribute to the euphoric feeling for his customer will create a bond that improves the chance of a sale.


Everybody is passionate about something. It could be family, hobbies or careers, but we all have passion in a way that computers do not.

People love other passionate people. If you can tell a story passionately you will have your audience hanging on your every word, and a company that has passionate staff has a major advantage when creating an emotional bond with customers.

Staff who show their pride in their company win the respect of consumers in a way that leads to positive interactions with customers.

Research has shown how company leadership is a key factor in sharing passion with the market, and the more passionate a company’s leaders are, the more that passion translates from staff to customers.

Social media is an ideal platform for these enthused staff to share their passion and pride with the rest of the market, and the more staff share their experiences, the more the outside world will be impressed with the passion of the company in question.

There is more to sharing passion than simply spreading online stories. Driven, motivated staff who genuinely enjoy helping customers are what sets these companies apart.

Unique human qualities that have an infectious effect on others create a personality and culture for the company, so searching for new ways to transmit this passion to your customers online and offline must become a permanent part of the management of your human-based customer relationship.

The human touch

When talking about the role of people in the customer relationship I hear ‘because that is the way we have always done it’ much too often.

Companies need to quickly realise how the human element will be one of their scarcest resources in the customer relationship in the near future, and is therefore one of the most strategically important.

People want things to be slick and efficient, but people will always like other people, so embrace both digital and human to create real added value for customers.

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