The Human Touch is Always the Secret Ingredient

Whatever you put your hand or your head to, to make it a success the secret ingredient should always be the human touch, and by that I mean heart and character.

Having character is what makes you you. It’s the very reason we love certain people or in the case of this opinion piece, gravitate towards certain brands. With all the technology in the world, from seamless e-commerce platforms, automated retail systems to chatbots to artificial intelligence aiming to mimic consumers’ decisions, nothing can replicate or replace the human touch and character, quite like... well humans.

Brands like Gucci and Everlane are a great examples of this. Gucci has seen a phenomenal surge in popularity over the last two years; in the first half of 2018 the luxury label’s sales almost doubled. However, you didn’t need me to tell you that - you may have observed it for yourself if you’re close to a Gucci store, as you would surely have noticed the consistent wait lines outside its entrance, unlike any other luxury brand. It’s not just because of its marketing plan, because celebs are wearing it, nor because of its digital integration. It’s a combination of all those factors and many others, and it goes deeper than that - it’s about the human touch.

Gucci has unmistakably cracked the code when it comes to the millennial market and nailing it's omnichannel model in providing a fantastic customer experience. Gucci’s industry-leading internet strategies and how the company has managed to intelligently integrate its digital connection and its in-store experience to present a true omnichannel customer experience is undoubtedly helping to cement its revival.

But rather than link the brand’s success in high-end fashion retail to its leading digital capabilities, that success is in no small way directly linked to the company’s dream team that is forging the brand’s resurgence - CEO Marco Bizzarri and creative director Alessandro Michele. When Bizzarri took over Gucci in 2014 he went in search of someone in the company who could school him on the process of design and Michele was just the man. The company is churning out designs that are winning it major style points, and it goes beyond aesthetics, with a major dose of practically injected into its merchandise. Its well thought out designs makes Gucci truly a lifestyle brand that connects with consumers on a high level.

“You cannot put limits or constraints on creativity,” Bizzarri told System magazine in 2018. To that end, the dynamic CEO has put creativity at the heart and center of Gucci as a brand and backed it up with corporate values that support creativity, including “respect, happiness, passion, empowerment and inclusivity.”

While the consumer doesn’t get to be part of the internal dialogue within a company, these kinds of values and that kind of creativity driven by heart and character that Bizzarri and his top team embodies, trickles down to the quality of its products and its company culture as a whole. And from a consumer perspective, to connect all of these is Gucci’s merchandise and importantly, the customer experience it provides.

The latter was most apparent during a recent shopping trip I made to Gucci. Despite me being able to check out the specs of its product range and make a purchase online via the brand's well designed e-commerce site, I made a trip in-store to it’s Collins St, Melbourne city location to inspect the designs in person, try on the merchandise, and most importantly, see if I rocked the new bag I was about to acquire... or not.

That visit, and every other visit I have made to Gucci, has been a delight. The staff are knowledgable on the products, offer consultative advice, are insanely friendly in a genuine way and finally, consistency - despite dealing with several store associates on various visits at the Melbourne city store, it has been a positive experience every time. To top it off, each associate I have dealt with had personality, which I have observed is usually not on the “list” of what makes great customer service when it comes to the industry guidelines.

Personality, in my opinion, is the “heart” of what transforms a good customer experience into an excellent one, a brand into an iconic brand and it reinforces the importance of the human touch when it comes to the customer experience. It’s paramount, not just in terms of the shopping experience itself - it translates to the enjoyment of the products and the sentiment of the brand in the most powerful way, more powerful than any sort of advertising ever could.

Give customers an awesome experience and they’ll not only buy more, they’ll come back more and share the experience with their friends.

There’s no denying that technology and digital commerce has enhanced the shopping experience, however as research, and my own observations indicate - consumers place high value on the human interaction and customer experience. According to insights from PWC's recent Consumer Intelligence Series survey, the 15,000 global shoppers that took part in the study confirmed what I conclude when it comes to retail and the shopping experience - the human touch still matters, more-so today than ever before. It’s quite simple - give customers an awesome experience and they’ll not only buy more, they’ll come back more and share the experience with their friends.

Consumers want more human interaction in the shopping experience, and not less.

Seventy five percent of consumers that took part in PWC’s survey indicated they wanted more human interaction in the shopping experience, and not less. On top of this, 75% of shoppers also said the consumer experience was more important than product quality or price when it comes to purchasing decisions, with a key takeaway being that a positive experience with a brand is more influential than advertising, even advertising considered to be “great”. Over a third of those surveyed also said they would stop doing business with a brand after just one bad experience.

So, what makes a great customer experience? The most important elements of a positive customer experience are: consistency, speed, knowledgable help and friendly service. And the biggest connector of all of these - the human touch. Bringing personality and a genuine air of friendliness is what builds real connections with consumers in a powerful way (note, the operative word here is “genuine”).

Real connections made with customers can help support all the efforts that companies put into technology.

Which leads onto my next point - real connections made with customers can help support all the other efforts that companies put in, including technology. It’s what helps bring the technology to life and creates a better experience for customers. Even a voice on the phone has the power to connect the two, something I’m increasingly finding online-only brands are void of - a contact number on its website and a person they can speak to, verbally (no, an email, a chatbot or a chatbox simply doesn’t extend the same benefit). I recently had an issue with a local handbag label and despite several attempts to reach out to the brand about a quality issue, I was only able to get in touch via email and the delay between messages was cumbersome. So, I decided to bin the item, cease contacting them and it’s safe to say that label has now lost me as a consumer for life - I decided to shop at Gucci instead.

To accentuate my point, I also shopped via Gucci’s Australian e-commerce site last week, which was a breeze. A well designed online store, and upon contacting its online customer service support with a concern, I was greeted with consistency in the customer experience - very friendly and helpful service, and the staff member resolved my concern. Delivery was timely, as promised and the unboxing experience was a delight. To top it off, every Gucci product I own is premium quality, factors stunning designs and are overall practical. The well thought out designs makes Gucci truly a lifestyle brand that transcends its luxury footing. But this delight goes beyond the products and the branding - my enjoyment of the products also comes from a deeper place and that’s all about the secret ingredient - the human touch.

With all the warnings about the retail apocalypse upon us, despite this, there is no greater time to reinvent a few things in the industry and provide great products and a great customer experience that will not only deliver on the kind of experience that shoppers want, it will keep them coming back. Now that’s the kind of sale that has a lot of legs, and that’s the kind of experience you want to always provide your customers with. Brands should never waste any opportunity to create a genuine, positive connection with customers as it will ultimately elevate everything else they are doing.

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