In the digital age, human contact does not lose its meaning

With the rapid development of technology, more and more companies are turning to digital transformation. Physical customer service units are replaced by digital channels, but professionals warn that over-hasty and unbalanced migration to digitality can cost customer satisfaction.

According to a study by International Data Corporation, businesses are spending more and more on digitizing their activities, products and services. Investment in digitalisation is growing every year, for 2022 it is forecasted that $ 2 trillion will be allocated by organizations. However, business advisers warn that directing all powers to one gate should not neglect the direct contact with the customer. This is confirmed by the lessons of business history: from a long-term perspective, tunnel thinking causes a lot of damage.

Would pay more

The results of a survey conducted by Accenture, a global business consulting firm, show that in the digital age, in order to win struggle for customer, companies need to invest not only in technological innovation, but also to strengthen their physical relationship with the customer.

”Customer expectations for quality service are growing, more and more consumers are seeking faster and more personalized service. A modern customer expects a “human touch”, the balanced approach to customer service, where both physical contact and the use of technology are equally important”, the authors of the study emphasize.

For example, global surveys indicate that as many as 73% of consumers would like to communicate directly with a specialist when they are in trouble using a company's product or service. For that they are determined and willing to pay more. Interestingly, 54% of consumers who have changed, for example, an Internet provider in recent years, believe they would not have done so if they had received more direct personal attention from their previous supplier.

Similar conclusions have been drawn by the Yonder Digital Group, which conducted the UK market survey, showing that 87% of business-to-business customers remain loyal and increase their collaboration with those product and service providers who maintain a human relationship at all stages of collaboration.

According to Accenture, the reason for customer dissatisfaction is clear: companies are no longer focusing on the quality of physical customer service in order to lead in the digital technology race.

“Customers often call smart digital technologies insensible and consider them as the least satisfying service channels. Human contact is the main driver of trust and loyalty”, says Vytautas Sinius, Head of Administration of Šiaulių bankas.

Optimization is underway

V. Sinius emphasizes that moving the customer service to the digital environment is felt in Lithuania as well.

“It is estimated that over the past 10 years the number of commercial bank branches in Lithuania has decreased threefold and attention has been paid to e-customer service opportunities, Internet and mobile banking, customer service by phone and internet social networking”.

According to a representative of Šiaulių bankas, in many smaller towns there is only one or several branches of the bank, and it is a sensitive social problem, because for some clients it is uncomfortable to deal with financial matters in another city using a computer or phone. According to V. Sinius, Šiaulių bankas is trying to go another way:

“Our vision is to expand both physical and digital customer service channels. Customer can choose: to manage finances by e-channels or in the bank's branch, and our job is to ensure that the customer's experience is of high quality”.

Face to face

The interlocutor says that it is most often thought that elderly people or people who use technology less often feel the shortage of bank branches, but this is only part of the truth.

“This optimization is painful for local businesses. What to talk about the ties that the banker and the entrepreneur create during the long years of communication. In smaller towns, the business community is closely related: the local banker is generally well versed in the local business situation, understands the specifics of their business, and can provide effective advice and quick decision-making on financing. For business customers, the speed of decision-making is particularly important, and the bank, while being closer to the customer, avoids unnecessary procedures and can take a decision on the credit in a very short time”, says Mr Sinius.

According to him, Šiaulių bankas' strategy to maintain the existing network of branches of the bank is justified, precisely because the bank is focused on the financing of small and medium business (SMEs).

“We aim for the bank's branches to operate in most municipalities. The Bank is investing in the development of the network, from upgrading of the units interior to the upgrading of the employees' qualification, says Mr Sinius.

Everything is done to enable SME managers to visit the bank branch, for example, even if they do not have a specific purpose in obtaining credit.

“Often SMEs do not have the necessary financial knowledge and experience, so it is always advisable to consult your bank's business consultant. During the live meeting, there are many questions that can help clarifying the financial subtleties, notice mistakes and discuss the future”, suggests Vytautas.

And the SME strategy

A face-to-face strategy for SMEs is the best not only when communicating with a bank, but also when it comes to maximizing feedback from its existing or potential customers. Embassy Suites, a part of the Hilton hotel network serving business-class customers, annually conducts a customer survey. Their clients, mostly business travellers, have confirmed that communicating face-to-face with them is the key to developing business relationships and maintaining customers. 97% of the respondents thought so. 53% of respondents said they had increased the number of personal meetings with their clients in the previous year, and another 17% said they had lost at least one client because they could not communicate with him directly.

“There is nothing better than a direct contact to healthy customer relationship. The problem is that SMEs often fail to appreciate this or have no financial resources. Therefore, for those who invest in technology alone, I would advise to allocate finances more thoughtfully”, says Chelsea Segal, head of business consulting firm Targetwise.