smiling restaurant worker waving from a window
PHOTO: JuniperPhoton

Can we all just agree it's a given that it is the “age of the customer” and that the internet has given consumers great power? We’re so far down the path of customer empowerment that the need to put the customer first is clear to most business leaders. 

Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot recently said marketers are moving from an era where the best product almost always won to the current state of affairs, where the best customer experience (CX) almost always wins. How to put the customer first is a big challenge for the marketing world, and yes, CX begins with marketing

The software options for CX run the gamut from contact center software, to digital infrastructure, and even SaaS solutions that claim to solve for the customer. While there are many technical complexities, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, there is such a thing as a one-sized-fits-all foundation to great CX —remembering that humans ultimately drive the process.

CX Means Nothing Without the Human Touch

The idea for this article came to me at a BBQ restaurant. It’s one of those where you order at the counter and pick from a handful of meats or meats in sandwich form, pick a few sides and probably a sweet tea. The kids’ menu had pretty much the same choices in kid sizes, but included the option of a grilled cheese sandwich, which my 5 and 7-year-old both were quite excited about.

When I ordered the grilled cheese sandwiches though, for $7.99 each, the counterman was clueless they were on the menu. He had never had anyone ask for one before, and seemingly couldn’t comprehend why we would be asking for not one but two of them. He happened to be saying all this while standing in front of two giant blocks of cheese that he was in the process of grating for the day, so I explained to him that slicing a few pieces of that cheese and putting it on two buns then throwing them on the grill would easily satisfy the pallets of two small children. He refused to do it. We ended up spending nothing there, rather than the $40 or whatever amount we would have spent.

This experience isn't unique to me — we’ve all had them. Had this restaurant invested in the greatest CX software available, the person who ultimately had the power to give me a great customer experience still had to be willing to give it to me. As it turned out, he was either unwilling and unable or lacked the proper training to know how to react to my request.

Which got me thinking about how CX has much less to do with the technology and much more to do with the people who are meant to use the technology.

Related Article: Digital With a Soul: Building More Human Digital Experiences

Putting the Technology Horse Before the Wagon

It’s easy to start the CX conversation with the complex technology that is required by enterprise companies, but with over half of the population working in the small business sector, imagine how miserable our lives would be if we relied solely on enterprise technology to solve our CX problems? That being said, of course the many enterprise solutions do help with CX so we have shorter hold times, are routed to the right agent, can solve our problems online, or even have personalized content or shopping suggestions delivered seamlessly. These are all important. But do you remember your last online personalization snafu or the last time a person initialized a bad experience?

Often times it’s easy to overlook or even disregard the simple fact that enabling your employees with the proper training and resources — which sometimes means giving them a little budget — to ensure client success is the first and most important step to great CX. The best technology in the world can't hide if your CX team lacks training, resources and trust (does “let me put you on hold while I ask my manager” make anyone else want to throw their phone across the room?).

Related Article: Buying DX Technology Is Easy. Finding a Solution Is Hard

The Relation Between Humans and Technology

Of course there is a relationship between humans and technology. The humans — be they customers or those working with customers — play a bigger part than the technology itself. 

Even with AI, machine learning and all that fancy stuff, humans are ultimately responsible for implementation and inputting accurate data to give the technology a starting point. Marketers and ecommerce professionals have to be able to control the data flow from content to consumer, and even if humans are not deciding which piece of content or which items to put in front of the consumer online, a human is still required to create the content or enter the SKU for the product being sold.

As marketers — whether in the B2B world or the B2C — we often have to remind ourselves that we’re selling to humans rather than companies or machines. Marketing automation is a wonderful thing and necessary, but without monitoring it and refining it when necessary, more prospects than not will fall through the cracks because your messages will simply become outdated and spammy.

We're still drawing the line between automation and manual tasks, but it’s clear this line will remain fuzzy, with humans having to play quality control while machines spit out and calculate data faster than a human can blink. But at the end of the day, great CX begins at the first interaction. And whether that’s done personally or online, it’s still done by a human.

Remember, investing in customer experience technology will be fruitless if your employees aren’t empowered to make customers happy or your messaging is too robotic. While the solution isn't always as simple as throwing cheese on a bun, most humans know how to solve for the customer and whether it’s a customer service rep solving a billing issue or a marketer delivering content, the customer experience starts with them.