Walking casually into a shop, a car show room, a café. Saying hello and standing close to other people. Not thinking about who is around you and who you are getting near to. That all feels like a thing of the past, doesn’t it? 

For the people who work in those environments, they must be wondering when and if they will experience it again too. The connection with customers, taking the time to understand what they want, smiling and making a joke with them – all things that many take pleasure & pride in.

We don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict exactly what is going happen in the next 6 – 18 months, we can however speculate with some confidence that some of these experiences are changed for good. Maybe not for every customer or sector, but for many.

It’s not just COVID-19 kickstarting this change. In the ‘The Global State of Customer Experience 2020’ report from CX Network, CX practitioners said the top CX trends for this year would be Data and Analytics and Digital Customer Experience. Artificial Intelligence & Chatbots and Digital Transformation followed in hot pursuit.

All of this likely means exciting new business models in commerce, the acceleration of digitisation in some traditional sectors and new customer experiences. It even means new routines in the world of work. In all of this however, will we lose the human touch?

Is data the saviour of connection with customers?

For many organisations, delivering a personal customer experience without the person is part of the day to day. Patterns in data deliver online personalisation on a relatively intimate level – this means there is a fine balance between using everything you know about someone and showing just enough that the customer is comfortable with it.

In truth, the savvy customer knows this is automated. This doesn’t mean they don’t value it, but they understand it’s transactional – it signifies customer care but it doesn’t replace it. Many customers don’t even notice. Few people realise how detailed the analysis of their Tesco Clubcard data is to provide them offers that they are likely to use, or prompt new behaviours, and this level of personalisation is not valued in the same way as the friendly person in store who goes out of their way to help you find exactly what you want.

Text based chatbots are becoming mainstream. They give us a glimpse into a future where automated assistance becomes a much bigger part of our interaction with organisations. However, natural language processing is still cranky at times and brand personality injected into the systems already in use won’t get us away from the fact that for the most part these systems fail to resolve our enquiries. We quickly become frustrated at their lack of ability to understand nuances in our needs and they inevitably hand over to a real person from the customer service team. At these times, a well-trained, polite, prompt and helpful person is all that the customer wants – often the difference between customer success and failure.

In the future, voice technology and the advancement of language processing will mean your Alexa won’t mistake a request to ‘turn the heating down’ as a command to ‘put the lights in the kitchen on’ but for the moment many of these systems are a long way off becoming any sort of substitute for human connection. The ability of voice assistants to deal with complex, human circumstances (despite Google Assistant being able to book a haircut for you) still seems a scene from ‘Her’ Vs part of everyday life.

Is water cooler chat a thing of the past too?

It’s not just physical experiences with customers that are evolving. In the same annual CX report, Employee Experience was the next 2020 priority (we can assume this data was collected before the global pandemic). If this is a priority for organisations, the job of delivering it has become much more complex in the passing of a few months.

The major challenge here is consistency. If we are to believe that more people will work more flexibly and that office-based jobs will include more home working, how will organisations ensure every employee has the same quality of experience in their work life. Whether it’s the environment, the surrounding team support, the structure of their day or the standards they adhere to, nurturing the individual is going to be more difficult.

The interpersonal dynamics of teams, the social environment and support systems that offices create and the opportunity to spot things going wrong (from a personal or organisational perspective) simply by being side by side will all undoubtedly be affected by changes to the way we experience and succeed in work. Flexible policies that blend office and remote work will need careful consideration to ensure that organisations provide a long-term constructive and motivating employee experience once the novelty has worn off.

Testing new ways of working, from being flexible on location to switching to outcome driven roles (Vs traditional working hours) are all connected and the events of the last quarter look likely to drive all of these nascent trends forward at a rate of knots.

How do we make the big decisions?

Big challenges and huge opportunities lie ahead. That’s clear. The truth is that’s the same as at any point in time. The world changes rapidly and everybody races to keep up. It’s also true that we are at a moment in time when things that were evolving at a certain pace have suddenly had a foot firmly pressed onto the gas pedal.

What should you do?

What helps right now is listening and learning. Understanding the expectations of your customers and employees is critical to changing your models for either group. Don’t just do it and hope for the best. Plan what you will change, understand why and test your next steps.


– When can a process be automated, so it is simple and still delightful?

– When do customers or employees need to be part of the experience to make it human?

– How do we be the most useful organisation we can be and serve both of these groups to exceed expectation?