The Human Touch: A Manifesto

Matthew Klassen

Matthew Klassen,

Content Marketing Manager

16 May 20220 min read

We live in the era of "peak" customer. Whether it’s success, service, support, experience, or obsession, we’re obviously obsessed with customers. So why does it feel so frustrating to be a customer? And why does it feel so overwhelming to lead a customer-facing team? The answer to both questions is we’ve lost the human touch. Here’s how to get it back.

I’m one of those people who waits until the last possible minute to do my taxes. 

It used to weigh on me — morally and financially — like a massing cloud of anxiety that started as a shady wisp in January before building to a thunderhead in April. But now I’ve finally accepted that procrastinating on taxes is just my fate, like being a Scorpio or something. Immutable and intrinsic.

And it’s usually fine, but this year (cue ominous music) I had a question.

A question the internet couldn’t answer. Nor could my accounting software’s infuriatingly recursive chatbot designed to deflect inquiries into predetermined channels to be “answered” by a forum thread from 2017 or a blog post drafted by a junior content writer.

“Sounds like you’re asking about x. Not what you’re looking for?”

“Are you sure you’re not asking about x? This is what you’re looking for…”

When your refund is on the line and your situation is complex or unique, you need to talk to a person — preferably a professional. The stakes are just too high.

The problem with high-stakes interactions

When I can’t get proper help when I need it most with my tax refund on the line, it’s over for me as a customer of that software. But “high stakes” for me is relatively low compared to some companies.

Somewhere out there, shipping companies are wrestling with global supply chain delays to deliver life-saving vaccines to vulnerable communities. Financial institutions are making decisions that determine whether and where a person can buy a home. Lawyers are negotiating contracts for their clients worth billions. Your company has high-stakes interactions with your customers.

These interactions obviously require a human touch. 71% of people expect the companies they do business with to deliver personalized interactions. Three-quarters of them will switch if they don’t like their experience. Why? Only a human being can offer the three things needed for high-stakes interactions:

  1. Creativity

  2. Judgment

  3. Empathy

The problem is that human beings don’t scale very well. We have limited time and attention. You can always just hire more people, but that only makes people more expensive. The larger the team, the harder it is to collaborate. And more than that, it makes your organization way too complex and unwieldy. 

The CRM category’s failure

Companies that differentiate on the strength of their customer relationships typically have a large number of high-stakes interactions. They need a way to scale human responses to their growing customer bases — which are growing faster and faster.

Unfortunately, our vaunted CRM industry has way over-indexed on low-stakes interactions. We have incredibly sophisticated systems to help companies serve solutions to millions of customers—as long as their problems are cookie-cutter:

  • Chatbots

  • Ticketing software

  • Self-serve information hierarchies

And those things are all fine for companies with low-stakes requests from customers. But what about when the customer’s problems aren’t cookie-cutter? What happens when the stakes are high? What happens if the customer wants to talk to a human?

Here are your options:

  • Email

  • Text

  • Phone

  • Any of a million fragmented digital channels that are essentially just different kinds of text messages — but that’s where your customers want to talk to you.

The basic frameworks of those technologies are, at minimum, 30 years old. When you compare the amount of innovation going on to enable low-stakes interactions at scale to the amount of innovation to enable high-stakes interactions, it doesn’t come close.

And as for solving the problem of ever-increasing systems complexity? The answer always seems to be the next system. A CRM, another (and another) spreadsheet, a cleaner database, a new support ticket tool. And when it comes to ever-increasing organizational complexity, the answer always ends up being (ironically) the same thing: another collaboration tool, another walled system.

None of those systems ultimately make it easier for your team, with their irreplaceable human traits, to put their focus back on high-stakes interactions — back on the customer relationship.

They weren’t designed for that.

The no-win scenario of scale

That leaves you, the business leader, with an impossible trade-off. 

On one hand, you’ve got email — your most effective and universal communication software. But it’s 50 years old and not designed for team collaboration at scale. On the other hand, you’ve got cutting-edge new technologies. But those are designed for low-stakes interactions—to replace the human touch, not amplify it.

You feel like you’re forced to pick between customer relationships and efficiency. That’s why so many companies that differentiate on great customer relationships either max out at a certain level of scale or not-so-suddenly become terrible at customer service.

And this was true before the global pandemic put even more stress on overworked and oversystemed employees. The stakes of every interaction were ratcheted up, and many companies broke under the pressure.

Solving complex problems requires teamwork, but collaboration has never been harder. The distance of remote work has made us distant from our work. We’re on different schedules from the people we work closest with. We feel unstuck in time. 83% of workers in the USA are stressed out by their jobs. 85% around the world aren’t engaged at work.

The tradeoffs you’re wrestling with at the company level are the same ones your team is wrestling with personally:

“Do I really need another tool to do my job? It’s just one more hoop to jump through.”

“I can’t focus on one more thing — I’m being stretched too thin.”

“Is it worth it to invest more time in this relationship? It’s so stressful…”

Somehow, everyone’s starting to feel less than human.

It’s no surprise, then, that 59% of consumers feel like the companies they do business with have lost the human element of customer experience.

You should never have to choose between strong customer relationships and operational efficiency.

And you should never have to feel less than human.

The one where everybody gets what they want

Well, that’s a pretty bleak picture, but it doesn’t have to be that way. What if you could have it all?

  1. Stronger and more meaningful customer relationships

  2. An effortless, efficient, and infinitely scalable workflow

  3. A happy and fulfilled team

That’s where Front comes in.

Because while all the other tech companies were scheming to replace human relationships with machine ones, Front was inventing something else. A way to bring all your collaboration, information, and communication together into one place. A way to give your team back time and focus to do what humans do best:

  1. Creativity

  2. Judgment

  3. Empathy

If your business differentiates itself on the strength of its customer relationships, you need to understand that your technology needs are different from more transactional business, where the stakes of each interaction are much lower.

If you’ve been down the path with the wrong software like dehumanizing ticketing systems or inaccessibly complex databases, you already know that the wrong technology decision doesn’t just cost you time and money, it undermines the culture of your company and the fidelity of your customer relationships.

And we’ve come full-circle back to the stakes. They’re just as high for you and your company as they are for your customers. Because your company’s culture isn’t just about retaining employees, it’s about retaining revenue. Companies with top quartile employee experience stats are 25% more profitable than their peers. Their customer satisfaction is almost twice as high.

That’s what’s at stake.

So no more trade-offs or sacrifices. No more feeling like a mannequin — or your customers feeling like you are.

With Front, everyone can get what they want: your business, your employees, your customers, and you.

Don’t take my word for it. Grant Crawford is the CFO of Priority, a logistics company managing over 1.5 million shipments each year. His team was overwhelmed with the number of customer messages — each one requiring collaboration and data to resolve. With Front, they were able to respond to each one faster, without sacrificing the human touch. And on top of that, their employees felt much better about their daily workload. See the interview with Grant here.

Written by Matthew Klassen

Originally Published: 16 May 2022

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