Making sense of the human element to drive customer growth


  • Despite significant investments in digital transformation, businesses remain challenged with keeping their customers coming back. 
  • What’s missing is an emphasis on the human element alongside tech.
  • Business executives should think about how the five senses — sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste — can inspire a human-centric approach.
  • These strategies can help you create experiences, products and relationships that feel familiar and natural.

Business executives today are facing a terrifying fact. Customers are leaving despite large investments in state-of-the-art technologies and initiatives. The clue may lie in the reason why companies struggle so mightily to connect with their customers: the human element.

As digital everything takes hold — and the marketplace becomes even more crowded and commoditized — thinking and acting human is the only differentiator. There are consequences for companies that can’t get the equation right, and today’s consumer will switch from one brand to another over a single negative experience.

How can your company avoid a mass exodus of customers? Above all else, it’s critical to focus on the human transformation alongside the digital transformation. Customers today increasingly feel that companies have lost touch with the human element.

It’s easy to forget that customers are real people. Regardless of the industry, market or company, people innately gravitate towards experiences, products and relationships that feel familiar and natural.

So how can your business adopt a human-focused model? How can you make interactions more appealing and more real across every channel, product and touchpoint?

The most natural interactions occur when businesses connect with basic human senses. Companies that adopt this framework drive higher levels of brand satisfaction. This, in turn, deepens relationships and boosts customer retention.

Here’s how companies can make better “sense” of today’s business environment.

1. Create a holistic view of the customer

We all view things through our own eyes. This means what we see and how we see it matters. Although most organizations have established lofty digital goals, many struggle to gain a single and accurate view of their customers.

Customers don’t care how a company organizes itself. Regardless of the product or offering — or how they choose to interact with a business — customers perceive that they are interacting with only one entity.

All of this points to a critical challenge. In order to become more human, companies must get rid of boundaries and constraints across business units, channels and technical infrastructure. But that’s where the relationship status gets complicated. Too often, each business line has its own version — and limited view — of the same customer.

Antiquated technical infrastructure along with a keep-the-lights-on mindset keeps many companies in the dark. To make matters worse, it’s virtually impossible for a company to engineer its way out of the situation with more technology.

To achieve a more human-centric model, companies need to embrace the idea of a unified enterprise where data floats free of departments, groups and silos. In this single-view, data-connected world, consumers receive the appropriate experience at the right time, regardless of what device they’re using or how they’re interacting with the company.

Achieving this requires businesses to migrate away from ongoing investments in legacy systems that support incremental changes and lead to technical debt. There’s a need for a modern technology framework that taps cloud infrastructure and applications to deliver flexibility and real world value.

With this foundation in place, a business can achieve a unified customer view across business lines — and spot changes immediately. Marketing, sales, support and other functions are equipped to act faster, smarter and better.

What to consider

  • Does every business group have a holistic and consistent view of each customer regardless of business line and function?
  • Do your annual expenditures tilt toward legacy application maintenance or change-the-business efforts?
  • Has your company embraced a more flexible cloud-based infrastructure?
  • Do you view customer experience as a core guiding principle for new technology initiatives?

2. Provide a personal touch

Almost anyone can provide products and services that address customer needs at scale. But to stand apart from the competition, your company needs to deliver a highly tailored and personalized experience.

It all comes down to one thing: Customers want to feel valued. When a business offers tailored solutions based on specific customer preferences, it demonstrates that it cares about that customer.

Consumer trust in a company determines how much personal information they’re willing to share. In addition, consumers are more open to sharing data for a service they truly value.

But despite widespread recognition that data is required to personalize offerings, companies continue to struggle with the concept. Too often, limited technical capabilities and disconnected systems and teams introduce roadblocks and detours that undermine personal touch.

What does value enhancement look like? Companies that collect the right data about a specific customer respond with timely offers that are relevant to that customer’s lifestyle and life events, which in turn leads to lasting loyalty.

Getting to this place isn’t easy. It requires significant changes not only to infrastructure but also to business processes. Silos must disappear and a single customer view must emerge.

If your company can get the equation right, you’ll be able to evolve to real-time interactivity. Suddenly, marketing, sales, support and other groups will be in sync and the customer will feel valued — and touched.

What to consider

  • Do you have the adequate technical infrastructure to integrate various data sources?
  • Can your customers easily understand how their data is being used?
  • How do you collect customer data and are you using it to deliver value back to the customer versus only the business?
  • How confident are you that your company can fully protect customer data?

3. Improve your listening skills

Customers want to be heard when they interact with companies. These are the most critical and defining moments in any business relationship, and it’s no simple task. Today, people expect to receive service and support anytime, anywhere and by any method of their choosing. Unfortunately, this issue often flies below the radar.

Transforming customer experience means venturing beyond conventional omnichannel and being present whenever and wherever customer needs arise.

What makes this so difficult is that many organizations continue to struggle with their baseline channel strategy. Although companies have accelerated investments in digital channels, data and technical silos continue to pile up. The net effect is a disjointed customer experience.

Instead, companies should blend and enhance internal connections — and channels — to focus on customer experience rather than merely heaping more technology into the mix. One example of experience driven omnichannel is how today’s leading streaming services enable a customer to start a show on one device, move to another device and continue watching the program at the exact spot he or she left off. This same experience is expected by customers when they engage across channels.

At the end of the day, “hearing” customers is all about finding ways to tie all their preferences and behaviors together and deliver the best possible experience all the time. In this world, they receive the appropriate level of attention — and human interaction.

Regardless of the exact approach, the common denominator is that there are clear resolution pathways when machines can’t handle the task. Ultimately, both the customer and the company hear each other and see enhanced value.

What to consider

  • Are your business processes streamlined to enable consistent and relevant interactions that are agnostic of the channel?
  • Do customer requests have clearly defined intake and resolution pathways?
  • Does your company offer digital channels (online, chatbots, self-service, etc.) for low-complexity customer inquiries?
  • Do your employees have the right customer data to make customer conversations tailored, sympathetic and real?

4. Start with the employee for an experience that lasts like a good aroma

A great customer experience lingers in the air like a great scent. What’s often neglected in the quest for improving customer experience is that employees matter too. In fact, they expect the same elegant, efficient, intuitive and relevant systems.

It’s a logical fallacy to expect employees to shift their expectations when signing on for work every day. If they encounter a poorly designed or outdated interface — or if a task requires too many steps or too much time — their experience and output suffers.

In fact, forcing employees to adapt to subpar technology is a recipe for failure. Not only will they wind up frustrated and unable to handle tasks efficiently, they won’t be able to deliver a great customer experience. Of course, an organization must also train and upskill talent for next-gen capabilities, processes and technologies, and the old adage — what’s in it for me? — is more relevant than ever.

What to consider

  • How much consideration is given to employee experience (EX) as part of your technology or functional initiatives?
  • Are you tracking EX as a return on investment (ROI) key performance indicator (KPI)?
  • Is your technical infrastructure equipped to enable real time service?
  • Do your technical investments enhance the speed of customer interactions?

5. Take small bites of the big meal

One of the things that makes a great restaurant great is that every little detail adds up to a fully memorable experience. It smells great when you walk in. The waiter greets you as soon as you sit down. The menu offers great options. The food is outstanding. The customer leaves delighted.

Similarly, companies should take the “think big but start small” approach to their human transformations. It’s OK to set big goals and visions, but a clear and incremental roadmap should be defined to avoid costly failure.

With new initiatives, many times internal stakeholders get nervous about giving up any legacy capability and expect the full solution to be in place before they can begin to adopt. This is usually attributed to a lack of clarity around the true value a low risk, agile approach can bring or the fear of missing out on necessary capabilities down the road.

The takeaway? By defining a clear roadmap that outlines key business objectives, your company will not only reduce the delivery risks but also become more nimble in addressing unforeseen and new needs.

What to consider

  • Have you established a strategic framework and roadmap?
  • Have you adopted an agile approach to delivery?
  • Do you have adequate change management, training and support initiatives in place for employees?
  • Are you tracking the ROI of technical investments?

Human connection matters

It’s impossible to avoid a human-centric pivot in digital transformation. No amount of technology can address the challenge.

A significant number of transformation initiatives fail because organizations don’t adequately account for the human factor. Organizations that succeed build their interactions around a complete sensory experience.

Best in class organizations recognize that the endgame isn’t only to connect with customers at a deeper level but to anticipate their needs and desires. At that point, your company may develop a sixth sense about your customers and deliver magical and truly transformative moments that elevate your brand and customer relationships.

It’s time to go back to the basics. It just makes sense.

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Geoff Plese

Energy and Utilities Customer Transformation Leader, Atlanta, PwC United States


Helene Kubon Skulstad

Customer Data & Analytics Transformation, Partner, PwC United States


George Korizis

Customer Transformation Leader, PwC United States


Mohammad Misbah

Director, Customer Transformation, PwC United States


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