Preserving Humanity With Tech in Our Rapidly Changing World: Part 2

Thought Leadership

By Ted Cran | April 28, 2020
eCommerce window front

COVID-19 will fade with time’s progression, but the world it leaves behind will be irreversibly changed. This is particularly true when it comes to tactile experiences, which we humans tend to crave.

In the future, on those lazy, perfect days, when we meet up with friends for a drink and a meal, we’re going to be thinking twice before touching keypads, touch screens, and other communal hardware that we use in accessing goods and services.

Post-pandemic, people are going to be much more aware of — and adverse to — touching shared surfaces. Contactless buying is a great solution to this. However, we must be mindful to work towards creating purchasing experiences for physical goods that preserve precious human interactions and moments too.

Multiple methods of buying goods in a fully contactless way already exist. These include ordering and paying via a specific company’s app, self-checkout in the supermarket, tapping bank cards, or paying via WeChat or Apple Pay.

While these tools fulfill the desire to make purchases with a minimum of touching shared public hardware, they also have the by-product of reducing human interactions at the same time.

For example, if you order your morning Starbucks with a few simple app taps, and then pick it up at a takeaway window, you’re never going to have a reason to share small talk with your neighborhood barista. Having been on both sides of the coffee shop till, I know how wonderful, and powerful, these conversations can be. I also know that when digital tools are introduced, the lack of contact can be an accidental negative consequence for both the customer and the employee. It’s important to remember that these micro-social interactions are critically important to us as humans, and contribute to our grander sense of community in a big way.

There’s another factor at play here too. Although the technology exists to support contactless experiences and transactions from start to finish, in real life, usually only one segment of an entire purchasing flow is contactless- the payment. Instead, customers still need to engage with physical objects at some point, for example selecting a tip using a touch screen, or entering their PIN.

Person Paying with Phone

It’s very possible to build digital products that completely eliminate the need for shared, touch-based hardware, while also preserving the human interaction aspect of the purchasing process. For example, we could use voice-based tipping tools — complete with a memo for the barista or server — that in turn would determine the tip size. We could also build interfaces that give customers a way to select their tip amount using their own personal smartphone instead of a shared surface. These are just a few of the ways we can innovate around problematic physical touchpoints. Biometric data can (and should) be utilized for payment authorization. Glancing at your phone to authorize a payment, then waving it over the terminal is far safer than touching it.

There’s added benefit for merchants here — they will gain customer insight far beyond the data they can glean from the tip selection on their payment terminal, plus these new channels and moments will create further opportunities to converse with, engage, and please their customers.

Behaviours relating to touching things that are not our own are already very different due to COVID 19. But the human relationship element that keeps customers feeling valued and loyal isn’t going anywhere. The core focus of customer-facing approaches moving forward is striking the perfect balance between these two important elements.

My belief is that keeping this focus will allow us to innovate and build better, safer, and more authentic moments of connection with our customers in the years to come, ultimately delivering a high-touch personal experience, via a no-touch buying process.

Check out Part 1 of the series here and stay tuned for Part 3, which is coming soon!