Horváth Innovation Insights

Digitization of emotion: Good strategy combines digital and analogue channels

The interaction between the "digital" and "analogue" channels is often underestimated – but it is fundamental to a consistent customer experience. The analogue channel especially dominates in situations of high emotionality. It is essential that it is consistently thought through to the end and linked to digital processes. In addition, companies should clarify in advance which goals should be achieved in which interaction with which customer.

Today, there seems to be only one maxim: Everything digital! We pay with our mobile phones, order Christmas presents, food and clothes on the Internet, book the next holiday, hairdresser appointment or doctor's visit online. And why shouldn’t we – the digital world is increasingly accommodating, and it boosts the comfort. Nevertheless, there are still situations in which the screen cannot replace social interaction with a person because personal contact is indispensable. Companies must therefore consistently ask themselves the question: Is changing our customer interface to the digital world really the (only) way forward?

Why we should not underestimate analogue interaction

Especially in emergencies or unexpected situations, stress, agitation, insecurity and sometimes even fear arise. Consequently, it is not only a matter of quick help, but also of the "emotional de-escalation" of the customer. In such situations, personal contact, for example over the phone, often achieves much more than an efficient but impersonal online process on the smartphone. As soon as the initial emotionality is reduced and help is on the way, a visualization – digital – on the smartphone can have an additional calming effect. In contrast to the initial contact by phone, a process can be made transparent and tangible on the smartphone, reducing the perceived waiting time.

Far-reaching decisions such as investing large sums of money or taking out a loan can be used as an example. In principle, most customers prefer personal contact in such cases. An employee able to respond to gestures, facial expressions as well as moods and who can explain an argument from different perspectives, creates personal closeness and trust. Nevertheless, a well-managed, digital process can create added value for telephone contacts instead of an upstream waiting loop, for example by collecting initial data or by asking leading questions to narrow down the topic for the following conversation.

The interplay of forces

There are already successful projects in practice today. For example, the ADAC, Germany's largest automobile club launched the pilot project “emergency locksmith service” in Munich in January 2019. In summer 2019, the service was not only extended to Hamburg and Berlin, but also supplemented with a digital application.

The ADAC placed emphasis particularly on the interlocking of the channels. The initial report, that a customer has locked himself out, can be made via telephone or online. In this way, ADAC mirrors the differentiation of customers, based on their emotional state. For digitally affine, more rational customers, who prefer a simple online process in the sense of rational processing, the application offers a simple and efficiency-related process entry. Rather emotional customers can still use human interaction on the phone, explain their situation and take advantage of one of ADAC’s core competencies – calming down in exceptional situations. Regardless of the way they enter the process, all customers have the option of following the process via their smartphone, for example, to see where the helper is currently located and to estimate the arrival time on site.

Pure digitalization of the customer interface is not enough far-reaching

Ideally, the channels interact with each other. Once it has been defined which channel is to be used for which point of interaction, they must be brought into harmony – both with each other and with the underlying strategy. If, for example, the corporate strategy of an insurance company is to use branch offices, the corresponding app is rather focused on finding appointments and navigation, less on the digital conclusion of contracts. If the strategic goals change, this also influences the design of the channels. It is crucial to not ignore the people who are supposed to use the service. If it is the declared goal to get many users on the app, the incentive system of the sales staff must also be adapted to this goal.

At present, we are seeing complex requirements and customer wishes as well as technologically rapid developments that tempt to jump on the bandwagon of digitalization. However, over-focusing a channel can result in the thoughtless loss of potential. In the future, it will be indispensable to build a consistent, positive customer experience to design digital and analogue channels in such a way that they complement and support each other.

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