Technological innovations have come a long way from the first electronic digital computer’s inception in the mid-20th century to today’s AI-powered chatbots. Tech is increasingly developing and mirroring human traits, with examples like Amazon Go’s cashier-less stores and Google’s Assistant making hair appointments on the phone giving us a taste of what the future has in store.

Today, people are not only delighted by, but also expect, fast, faultless and consistent customer experience. The simplest chatbots have evolved into proficient assistants to match these expectations, recognising what it is that we, as humans, find most helpful. That’s why AI is more than just a buzzword and many businesses are using it across all their support channels.

But with tech’s continuous evolution, what will the falling number of people in customer service mean for the customer experience tomorrow? We think humans and tech can work together to create a seamless experience, instead of one trying to overpower the other.

Let’s talk about it

Having conversations around humans vs tech in customer experience are important in helping us understand the evolving relationship between the two. At Ethology, we pay close attention to these conversations while crafting experiences that are intuitive and based on insight, aiming to engage target audiences, maximise conversations and help brands grow.

While technology acts as a great facilitator, it shouldn’t function as a sole entity. It is not here to replace people. Instead, tech can help understand customers’ needs and desires, working together with humans, in order to give them a seamless experience.

It’s important to remember that customer experience should put the customer at its core. Often businesses make the easy mistake of jumping on the ‘digital first’ hype for the sake of it, trying to remain relevant and timely. Yet, digital should be used to amplify customer engagement, strategically weaved into experiences, used to its maximum potential.

The importance of physical and digital’s changing roles

In today’s digital era, brands, agencies and businesses are prioritising incorporating tech and innovative ideas into customer experience strategies. Physical environments are changing in the way they feel, as a growing number of brands are enhancing shopper experiences, enabling customers to interact with them in various innovative ways. For example, Coach changed its retail experience strategy by pulling its handbags and accessories out of 25% of American department stores in order to focus its efforts on its own stores. The brand installed monogramming stations and Made to Order Rogue, enabling customers to design a bespoke Rogue bag, elevating their physical stores’ shopping experience.

Nike is another example that adopts an omnichannel approach in some of its stores by featuring a personalisation studio, a fitting room with digital checkout and adaptive lighting, as well as playground-like trial zones. Immersion stores like this act as a reflection of the brand, appealing to shoppers who crave a hands-on experience, attracting them into physical stores.

Digital has always served a role of speed and convenience, but while online shopping can provide the ultimate time-saving service, people still place a high value on experiences. Consumers want to build relationships and having face to face contact with a human representative can help establish greater trust. This live interaction eliminates the unknown and impersonal interaction with a screen.

Can online and offline work seamlessly together?

As the roles of physical and digital naturally change, bricks and mortar stores are increasingly adopting an online presence. Meanwhile, some ecommerce brands are introducing offline experiences, such as Amazon Go’s cashier-less concept store, which uses facial recognition for purchases.

Others, such as luxury ecommerce platform Farfetch, are further blurring the lines between online and offline through the introduction of their ‘Store of the Future’ at Browns in London. However, it is not an actual store, but a retail platform that consists of a suite of tech products and tools, which partner shops can pick from and use to create their own unique experience.

But concern is growing as such innovations might have implications for retail staffing. Digital retail should be solving purchase issues and making shopping easier, but at its core it should focus on how different channels integrate and complement each other. This will vary from one brand and sector to another, but finding a balance that reflects and multiplies its messaging is key.

Putting the power in customers’ hands

When a customer has had a positive experience with a brand, they naturally want and expect a repeat of that emotion. This means seek a mirrored experience from other brands, wanting more and creating an ‘expectation economy’. Such experiences require a considerate amount of time, effort and skill, which successful brands are ahead of the curve with. Brands are racing each other in who will first meet those needs and win consumers’ loyalty. They need to give consumers choice in their customer experiences through providing a relevant service, getting to know their customer base and removing the burden of choice, while also keeping them entertained and engaged. They need to take away the menial and make their offerings meaningful.

From theory to practice

As an agency working with multiple brands and industries, it’s important that we focus on getting the balance right between physical and digital, while developing customer experience methods that are transferrable across sectors. For instance, we have previously successfully adapted strategies across automotive, finance and quick serve restaurants.

Putting theory into practice, supporting clients throughout the whole journey is vital to us, as creating apps and tools can help consultants produce the best customer experiences for their clients. Working with external specialists can help establish how much activity needs to be moved online and how people’s roles can be further empowered. For instance, tech can use purchasing and behavioural data to create a loyalty algorithm. These programmes can then further build the face-to-face side of customer experience, so maintaining consistency in brand warmth and messaging across digital and offline require hard work.

The Future

The roles of tech and humans will continue to change. Tech assistants will become a fully-fledged part of our everyday life, enabling automated, seamless and effortless experiences, but as tech inevitably replaces some of people’s functions, how do we further utilise our time and skillsets? We will create what we crave the most – experiences. And we’ll make them better, more efficient, engaging and enjoyable through the continuous fuse of tech and humans.

Eliot Sykes

Eliot Sykes


Eliot Sykes, Head of Customer Experience for Ethology, part of bigdog.