Is The Personal Touch Possible In The Digital Economy?

Johann Wrede

Part 2 of the “Thriving in the Digital Economy” series

When I travel, it’s a bit of a social event. I enjoy conversations with the gate agents, flight attendants, hotel staff, waitresses, and cab drivers. And while being outgoing is part of my nature, I don’t just talk to them for the sake of talking – I’m building relationships to learn where the locals go, discover how to get a deal, and, most of all, to have a better experience.

Now that consumers can click, tap, and swipe their way through the buying journey, that kind of experience and dialogue is quickly disappearing. A recently released IDC study, “Thriving in the Digital Economy: How small and midsize enterprises are adapting to digital transformation,” sponsored by SAP, uncovers that a sizeable percentage of businesses worldwide are well aware of this reality:

  • 41.8% believe that the next generation of corporate employees won’t have the same kind of relationships with customers as experienced in the past
  • 38.7% cite that employees are no longer as personally connected to customers

Is digital technology turning people into social hermits who avoid human interaction in favor of the glowing screen before them? No, not at all. The difference is that we are now in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining how personal we want our experience to be. As outgoing as I am, sometimes I just want to check in on my phone, get to the gate, put my headphones on, and close my eyes.

How digital technology is transforming our view of the customer experience

Not too long ago, personalization meant segmenting customers based on similar preferences, demographics, interests, and needs. For each of these target groups, a product, service, or deal is specifically created and offered. The approach worked only moderately well because, in reality, no two people are exactly alike.

With the widespread adoption of social media, Internet search, and e-commerce, consumers have so much more access to information and buying options. Sometimes people want to use their phone to search the Web or get on social media – and other times, they want to talk to someone or even look them in the eye as they shake hands. Either way, it’s up to the company to dial up or dial down the intimacy of the experience to suit the individual’s needs and preferences.

The real challenge for businesses is delivering a consistent, undisrupted experience as shoppers jump from channel to channel – clicking through an e-commerce site, talking to a service agent, or visiting a retail store. By establishing an omnichannel approach powered by a holistic, real-time view of the customer, anyone who interacts with a consumer knows who they are and their history, what they want and expect, and how they prefer to engage with the brand.

Individualization – not personalization – is redefining the customer experience

Winning in today’s economy is about providing great experiences. Sometimes it’s highly personal, self-service, or somewhere in between. But to the individual, it should feel like an experience designed specifically for them – what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

And when companies inject that kind of freedom and individualization into the buying experience, consumers will get what they want – which will make the brand relationship stronger, loyal, and more personal.

During the next six weeks, we will share additional insights from IDC study, “Thriving in the Digital Economy: How small and midsize enterprises are adapting to digital transformation.” Be sure to check each Tuesday for new installments to our blog series “Thriving in the Digital Economy.”


About Johann Wrede

Johann Wrede is the Global Vice President, Audience, Brand, & Content Marketing, for SAP Customer Engagement & Commerce. He leads a team of audience marketers to produce original content and events which feed our global marketing campaigns and digital channels to drive both awareness and pipeline.