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Can technology make relationships with brands feel personal?

technology
(Image credit: Image Credit: GaudiLab / Shutterstock)

The most engaging experiences are those that feel personal - we all like interacting with another human. But how can brands connect with customers to create that same engagement? Tom Downing, Strategy Director at Freestyle, discusses how technology can help brands connect with customers.

Now, pandemic or not, consumer online retail has been rising for years. Long gone are the days of casually chatting with a shop assistant then walking out of a bricks-and-mortar store smiling, arms laden with shopping bags. Brands communicate digitally - they look at numbers, customer journeys and KPIs. Swamped with data they often create faceless experiences, lacking in warmth with no sense of true engagement.

But we buy with emotion, not logic. Fact. Over 90 percent of our behaviors and decisions are driven by emotion. In fact, according to recent research by Harvard Business Review, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.

73 percent of UK consumers also expect brands to personalize their journey - with 75 percent believing that not all brands are customizing their online experience.

That’s clear then, brands need to provide more personalized experiences, create emotions and connect with customers. But can technology replace human interactions?

Make machine learning work for you

ML capabilities have rapidly evolved over recent years. There are so many opportunities to creatively use the technology to support customer experience. However, it’s still early days. Technology is only as good as it’s user. The speed of advancement for technology capabilities has begun to overtake our human ability to creatively generate meaningful ideas around them.

Let’s take healthcare as an example. Accessing health advice in sensitive times is an incredibly emotional, personal experience. ML’s role in scaling the problem within healthcare of diagnosing health conditions is beginning to show promise. Babylon Health is a technology business serving a product that uses ML models to help diagnose conditions at scale via their app and chatbot. However, the crucial ingredient here is that the experience doesn’t fully rely on the ML model to serve the need - it’s only supporting the clinicians’ role in diagnosing people - not replacing them!

Interestingly, where you would think that most people would prefer to speak to a human clinician following a health issue, evidence shows that more people prefer the ML model as it’s easier and quicker to access reliable advice. No wait times here!

The power of machine learning comes from its ability to support the human with new perspectives. ML core ability is to learn and make decisions independently, from data sets. The best use cases are when ML has been used to expose new perspectives to the human. BigUp.ai is an experiment that uses ML to learn, and flip empowering words of wisdom around, ultimately leading to more impactful language. For example, the term ‘curiosity’ results in the flipped statement “my curiosity only grows with the more I learn”. So, in your business how can ML give you and your customers a new perspective?

Can voice technology make you smile?

The technology side of voice user interfaces is advanced. Its low price point has led to it being adopted at scale - perfect for that Christmas gift to play music or to set a timer. But this is massively underutilizing the capability of what Voice tech can really offer.

In 2018, Disney released a Voice Skill to enhance the parent-child bedtime story experience. The key success here is the strategy sits around enhancing an existing experience. Children are naturally highly imaginative and curious - through Disney read-along Alexa supports the story by playing music and sound effects relative to the chapter you're reading, in real-time.

With touch restrictions and disrupted routines caused by Covid-19, consumers have developed new habits and attitudes related to voice activated technology.

Research conducted by Europe’s leading voice technology studio Vixen Labs shows that parents are the most advanced adopters of voice-activated technology across all sectors with 48 percent of parents already using voice technology to make purchases and 81 percent using it to search for information about brands. Who would have thought a few years ago that parents are the ones to lead the technology revolution?

Vixen Labs research indicates that there may be a place for voice-activated technology to step in as the new ‘helper’ for parents - playing a growing role in reducing stress in family homes disrupted by the pandemic. This is exactly when technology comes in as the good guy - it helps consumers overcome day-to-day challenges and allows brands to create connections with what is a multimillion, productive age, loyal target group.

Travel the world via Augmented Reality

Creating the feeling of a personal experience is rooted in emotion. AR has the ability to transport you into a new life-like experience, within your surroundings. Keeping a child entertained whilst learning is always tricky, which is why the popular Wonderscope app uses AR to teach literacy and tackle bullying through entertainment.

Children don’t question technology, as their imagination is so extensive at a young age. Watching my daughter walk around the house following Clio in Cosmic Quest is a magical experience to witness. Taking the personal experience further, Clio then interacts with her by asking questions about herself. Voice recognition technology captures in real time her response, which triggers the next scene.

Customers don’t want to see your technology

Let’s get this clear, we don’t like speaking to machines. We want to speak to a human in a company to get an answer quickly. This reluctance to engage with machines has been fueled by mis-use of technology in poor implementations, and in critical emotional moments of the customer experience.

Your customers don’t and shouldn’t notice the technology you’re using. If the customer notices your AI chatbot - more than the reason behind why it’s being used - it won’t feel like a genuinely valuable experience. More of a gimmick.

So in answer to ‘Can technology replace human interactions?’, the simple answer is it can’t. However, technology can support emotional experiences and help build connections with customers. The trick is in creating technology-powered experiences which will make the technology part almost invisible.

The future of brand connections

It sounds like a paradox, but technology will make brands feel more human in future.

The ability to understand how the user is feeling, what their reaction is, and how to interpret that into a more personal brand experience is only going to get more advanced and accurate. Consumer habits will evolve further and costs will lower as more brands experiment with personal experience supported by technology. Now it’s the time for brands to experiment, jump on the bandwagon, and use technology to create connections which will last.

Tom Downing, Strategy Director, Freestyle