Hands of an old man and a woman's hands interlocked.

Mulesoft's 2022 Connectivity Benchmark Report found that 70% of organizations struggle to provide completely connected user experiences across all channels. At the same time, the report noted that almost three-quarters (72%) of organizations' customer interactions are now digital.

Yet despite the prevalence and sophistication of digital touchpoints, we are often left yearning for a human connection.

Think about the depth of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were missing our friends and our families — but we were also missing those familiar faces: the people we say hi to at the gym every day, the barista who makes our morning coffees, the commuters who take the same trains as us every day and greet us with a smile. 

The idea of “consequential strangers,” also known as “peripheral” or “weak ties,” is based on the work of psychologists Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman. As Blau and Fineman write, these ties anchor us in the world and give us a sense of being plugged into something larger.

Where Do Humans Fit Into a Digital World?

Those human connections, no matter how casual, make a difference in our day-to-day lives. But in a world that’s increasingly digital, is there still space for human interaction?

“The existing assumption is that to digitally transform a company, you need to adopt the latest technologies. While this is partly correct, it doesn’t tell the whole story — what has to change isn’t only your technology, but also how you organize, operate and behave as an organization,” says Deloitte Digital’s Garth Andrus. “Digital Transformation is just as much about people and organizational change as it is about the specific technologies being used.”

It's become popular to say that digital transformation is about people, not technology — in fact, I even said it myself last year. In fact, when pursuing digital transformation, more than half of technology leaders believe that people (31%) and culture (20%) are the most critical factors to driving digital transformation success. But while people are important to digital transformation, much as they are with any major initiative, what really matters for success in digital transformation relies on both people and technology.

Without technology, digital transformation is just transformation, and making digital a part of the equation is lost. Ultimately, you’re just left with minor efficiency improvements.

Related Article: How to Be a Digital Transformation Champion

Balancing the Digital Experience With the Human Touch

Salesforce research finds 96% of global organizations have undertaken a digital transformation or are planning to in the coming months. But as MuleSoft’s 2022 Connectivity Benchmark Report found, organizations are struggling to integrate user experiences: 30% of organizations are able to provide completely connected experiences across channels. While that seems low, it’s a major increase from the 18% who said the same in the 2021 report.

It's no question that connected experiences drive customer experience. Picture driving home from the office, listening to a book on Audible, seamlessly picking up where you were on your Kindle app, then having your Echo pick up from there and read it to you as you fall asleep. (And then waking up to an email from Amazon suggesting you buy the next book in the series.) Regardless of channel, the experience is the same.

Automation is essential for providing customer experience at scale. “You cannot scale the human side of customer success linearly with revenue,” said Paro VP of Experience Matt Kamhi. “You need to automate without disrupting the existing customer experience.”

But What’s Missing From That Experience? People!

Humans shape technology. In fact, it’s the human touch that really changes an organization. Imagine if your reading experience had a more human touch. Say your customer success manager called to check in on how your reading goal was going and, while you’re chatting, recommended some time management techniques to help you fit in a few additional pages each day. Or if you called Support, and they recognized that you’re a heavy consumer of books, so you jumped to the front of the queue and the agent you spoke with skipped basic troubleshooting questions. Or maybe the data would show how much you’re reading, so the customer engagement team reaches out to get your feedback on new features or invite you to a book club they thought you would enjoy.

While all of these examples start digital, they end with people. Every employee plays a part in building a digital culture. Digital transformation requires employees to hone skills including decision-making, proactivity, continuous learning and adaptability. And technology needs to support — not hinder — the personal connections your employees are making.

Related Article: Successful Digital Transformation Is More Than a Technology Project 

Making Automation Impactful — and Seamless

Changing your relationship with customers means changing how you interact with them, providing a consistent experience across all channels — whether digital, in-person, or automated. It’s not just about building playbooks and sitting back while the robots take over.

You need people — people to look at the data, people to make changes, people to reach out and have conversations with customers. After all, when the majority of your interactions are digital, human connections truly stand out. And with neuroscience showing us that human decision making is driven by the emotional just as much as — if not more than — the rational, it’s even more important to build emotional connections.

“Automation technology cannot work solely by itself — it also requires the human touch. Combining both humans and technology together allows businesses to provide enhanced customer experience,” writes Steven Van Belleghem in the book "When Digital Becomes Human."

It's easy to think that the best website, the most seamless app, the most sophisticated automation, you’ll automatically provide the best service to customers. But people have a central role in the process. Building a culture that promotes positive human connections with customers, and makes your employees feel ownership over the customer relationship, will take your technology to the next level.

Creativity, emotion and passion have a place in the customer relationship, and the human touch will become even more important as we continue our digital transformation journeys.