Don’t forget the human element in digital commerce

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Much of the innovation in commerce technology over the better course of the past two decades has been focused on removing “friction” from the buying process. Whether we are talking about online e-commerce, or in-store, etc. – technology has been developed to empower the consumer to make choices and complete purchase activity in an unfettered manner.

As the web, and now mobile, become ubiquitous tools for the everyday buyer – this initial automation phase made perfect sense, and was entirely necessary. However, I see a new phase of development in commerce-related technologies emerging. This new phase, in contrast to previous development, will seek to better connect the human touch points of both digital and in-store commerce experiences.

Setting data free

When talking about the “human touch points” in commerce, we can be talking about a number of use cases. For example, while e-commerce tools can automate product recommendations and of course checkout – the escalation process when a consumer has an issue either with the checkout process or with a received product, is less than ideal.

This is because many B2C models thrive on volume and thus have kept a somewhat anonymous approach to buyers (apart from simple profiles and purchase history for recommendations). And, that data was typically trapped in the commerce engine silo. So, when a human customer service agent tries to solve issues – he or she typically has insufficient data.

In addition, by failing to create an omni-channel profile of the customer – many insights and opportunities are lost. But, if we can immediately aggregate the entire customer activity across the purchase journey, we can better understand how customers get from the early stages of product “research” through to purchasing. This is especially important in B2B scenarios, where the process is a little more complex across channels. Understanding what actions a business buyer makes across channels is typically not tracked in a single system, such as a CRM platform. But if it were, marketers and sales organisations would be able to better optimise the lead-to-close process.

Championing customer experience

While these two phases seem at odds, they are quite complementary.  In today’s highly competitive marketplace, customer experience is becoming the true differentiator in many industries – far more so than price or product variety. The businesses that provide the right balance between a “frictionless” buying experience, with the added nuance of the “personal human touch” have a better shot at succeeding in today’s economic atmosphere.

The good news is, that modern commerce, mobile, social and even CRM tools are becoming more flexible than ever – allowing for highly differentiated and integrated customer experience models. The data is easier to move between systems – creating an “uber-view” of customer histories that can be used across the human interactions that occur in the marketing, sales/purchase, support phases of the customer journey, and beyond. Today, we truly have the ability to offer the best of both worlds to our customers: fast, simple purchase processes when they want it; or the consultative, high-touch relationship approach when it makes sense.  While this is a new phase of commerce technology development, the core tenet remains the same: providing the best experiences for the customer. 

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