When Digital Becomes Human | Steven Van Belleghem

Summary of: When Digital Becomes Human: The Transformation of Customer Relationships
By: Steven Van Belleghem


In the book ‘When Digital Becomes Human’, Steven Van Belleghem outlines the transformation of customer relationships driven by advancing technology. The book highlights the changing landscape of commerce due to digitalization, robotics, and the Internet of Things and how they impact the human aspect of conducting business. The author argues that companies should not dispense with human interaction but should strike a balance between digital and human customer experiences. Four scenarios of businesses’ interaction with customers are envisioned: a quick death, strong today but not tomorrow, a fighter’s market, and when digital becomes human. Explore with us how modern companies can thrive by interweaving digital and personal client relations and engaging with the crowd-sourcing community.

The Dominance of Technology

Technology influences people’s lives more than people influence technology. The prevalence of technology in our lives is increasing, such that an average family would have 10 or more devices with internet access by 2020. As digitalization, robotics, and the Internet of Things gain more influence over commerce, the human aspect of doing business will quickly decrease. Self-service options are efficient but fail to provide essential human qualities like creativity, empathy, and passion. While companies shift towards doing business digitally, they cannot ignore the importance of human contact. Combining digital and human customer relationships is the only way for most businesses to thrive in the future. Thus, technology will continue to shape the society we live in.

The Future of Digital Commerce

The evolution of digital commerce will be characterized by surges in mobile technology, the internet of everything, robots, 3D printers, and artificial intelligence. As mobile processing continues to advance, consumers will demand even more instant gratification from intelligent apps and wearable devices. In the future, manufacturers will integrate sensor technology into all products, creating a vast network of interconnected devices. Robotics will move into everyday life, with robots performing household chores, shopping, and providing healthcare. 3D printers will become affordable for most households, enabling anyone to become a manufacturer, and the market for 3D printing is expected to reach $550 billion by 2020. Artificial intelligence will empower computers to replicate emotions and nonlogical thought, enabling automated call centers to replace customer service staff. The widespread availability of sensors will change many businesses, including weather forecasting. The future of digital commerce will be shaped by these surges in technology, and those who embrace and adapt to these changes will be best positioned for success.

Digital Giants’ Customer Relations

The dominance of global tech companies – Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and Alibaba – is unmatched. Their acquisitions and entry into new markets provide these firms with virtually unlimited research, marketing and global platforms, allowing for increased power, influence and profitability. Yet, while these “digital giants” offer consumer ease and convenience, they seem increasingly disconnected from their customers and the vital element of human contact. However, these brands only embody current customer relations, not the future’s.

The Future of Customer Relations

As companies digitize their customer service channels, it’s becoming increasingly important to humanize these interactions. According to a recent study, 73% of customers prefer to have a human connection with a company, even if digital channels function well. Without emotional engagement, customers become detached and often turn to competitors.

The book outlines four different scenarios that companies may face in the increasingly digital marketplace:

– The “quick death” scenario where companies fail unless they can provide a combination of excellent digital service and human contact.
– The “strong today but not tomorrow” scenario where companies excel in personalized customer relations but are vulnerable to larger competitors with superior digital capabilities.
– The “fighter’s market” scenario where digital powerhouse firms compete on price and ease of use, often neglecting human connection.
– The “when digital becomes human” scenario where companies like Airbnb successfully integrate both digital and human interaction to create powerful customer loyalty.

To succeed, companies must seamlessly integrate digital and personal client relationships, ensuring that their brand’s positive aspects are projected by combining such experiences. The book concludes by noting that a massive gap exists between how companies view their customer orientation and how customers perceive the experience, with almost 80% of CEOs thinking their company is customer-oriented while only 8% of consumers agree.

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