Sally speaking in a black and white photo on a purple/pink background with graphical figures

"Employees and customers are seeking more of a human connection"


In conversation with MyCustomer, Sally Winston, Director of EMEA Solutions at Qualtrics, emphasises the significance of human connection in the digital transformation era.

17th Aug 2023

In this interview with Sally Winston, Director of EMEA Solutions at Qualtrics, the focus is on the intersection of digital transformation and human connection in businesses.

Sally highlights how neglecting empathy in technology-driven strategies can lead to lost competitive advantage and emphasises the role of frontline employees in building customer connections with empathy, aided by technology. 

With a focus on accelerating digital transformation, do you think companies have neglected the importance of human connection? If so, what consequences have they faced as a result?

For some organisations, the drive to ‘faster, cheaper, less human’ has triumphed over thoughtful direction and people/customer-centricity. The rapid need to digitally transform the way a business operates has in many areas come from a renewed focus on hard metrics which can at times neglect the people the technology was built to serve – be it customers or employees.

When we think about digital transformation as an IT topic, we miss out on the opportunity to drive genuine, human-centric improvement through the use of technology. Digital transformation can transform businesses in a way that retains human-centric connection if it’s done with this in mind. We know that employees and customers are seeking more of a human connection in their interactions with the brands they buy from or are employed by. For example, recent Qualtrics research found that globally, when a consumer talks to an empathetic agent they are over five times more likely to be happy with the overall experience. Neglecting this aspect of your digital transformation strategy will lose you competitive advantage.

Focusing on the human experience, brands will be able to ensure retention, loyalty, and overall satisfaction.

Focusing on the human experience, brands will be able to ensure retention, loyalty, and overall satisfaction – all leading to better customer and employee loyalty. Companies that strike a balance between digital transformation and human connection are more likely to build a relationship founded on trust and collaboration with both customers and employees, enabling them to drive loyalty and thrive in today's fast-paced business environment.

How can frontline employees play a role in building connections with empathy? What insights and tools do you think they need to effectively practise empathy in their interactions with customers?

As well as creating a culture where empathy and empowerment are central to the approach taken to customer delivery, we’re seeing technology playing an increasingly important role in helping drive greater empathy. 

A lot of the work we’re doing with CX teams is focused on optimising the customer journey, providing space for customers to provide feedback at every moment of their journey, giving frontline teams the tools to react in real time and empowering teams with tools for social listening with AI technology embedded to summarise and drive action.

Given the fast-paced nature of businesses today, how can organisations ensure that they act in the moment and make real-time decisions based on customer and employee feedback?

Organisations need to have the right processes in place to help alleviate some of the decision making requirements, so that frontline workers can focus their efforts on important customer needs. Empowerment is critical here, but technology can be used to help guide towards the best outcome and this is where some of our AI innovation is really exciting. 

Organisations need to have the right processes in place to help alleviate some of the decision making requirements.

By implementing tools and solutions that can monitor experience data – human sentiment, feelings and emotions – organisations can improve their listening capability and secure a more complete understanding of how their workforce and customers are feeling. 

Solutions centred around delivering real-time experience insights involves using natural language understanding and machine learning capabilities to identify sentiment, reasons for calls, common issue resolutions, compliance risks, and more. This can lead to increased effectiveness and engagement for those in customer-facing roles, improving consumer satisfaction and building those all-important customer relationships.

What are the potential challenges in implementing strategies to amplify empathy from the boardroom to the frontlines?

There are a number of challenges organisations may face. Firstly, transforming an organisation's culture to prioritise empathy takes time and requires a belief in the strong connection between empathy and business outcomes. Continuous measurement and connection to business outcomes can help build confidence and also help course correct along the journey. 

Sustaining long-term commitment to empathy as an organisational value takes continuous effort and reinforcement, a full understanding of the customer and employee journey and an approach which builds empathy into every aspect. Our advice is always to start somewhere vs trying to go everywhere with constant evolution and iteration over time. 

Joining CX and EX and using data to demonstrate meaningful ROI is the best way to secure board buy-in.

Joining CX and EX and using data to demonstrate meaningful ROI is the best way to secure board buy-in. It aligns objectives across the organisation to create a single experience that leads with a human-centric approach.

How would you address these challenges to ensure a comprehensive and inclusive approach?

The first step to working towards any business objective is getting the right stakeholders in place. They need to be shown the positive impact of delivering a joined-up CX + EX ‘human’ strategy, and this involves demonstrating the clear impact of taking a holistic approach. Testing this with one aspect of the experience journey is one way to bring this to life ahead of a broader roll out, bringing senior leaders together with front line employees (and customers) to map the journey of experience can be another really powerful tool. 

CHROs and CX leaders can work together to create a programme that shows the link from how a happy employee leads to a happy customer. They need to consider the key drivers of a positive EX, for example looking after their people’s mental health and wellbeing and the impact this has on their productivity and performance.

This will then lead through to the business creating a tangible framework that delivers actionable insights and optimised experiences across all touchpoints, driving revenue, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and brand success in the long-run.

How do you envision the successful organisations of the future? What key elements or characteristics would these organisations possess, and how would empathy play a role in this?

Successful organisations of the future will have purpose-driven leadership, an agile culture, employee empowerment, and customer-centricity. It will have the processes in place to capture employee and customer feedback to make sure it is listening, measuring and acting on feedback to achieve its goals, with that action driven through the frontline as well as being strategized in the boardroom. They’ll also embrace insight in every form. Employees and customers are already sharing their feedback in multiple places. The most innovative organisations are embracing insight from these channels and using it to drive business impact now. This, powered by AI to help navigate insights, will become normal practice for successful organisations in the future. 

By prioritising empathy, organisations can create a strong foundation for success in a dynamic business landscape.

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