BOOK REVIEW
  • Customer Focus

Digital Transformation and the Human Touch

Steven van Belleghem’s ‘When Digital Becomes Human’



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Businesses while welcoming the digital revolution, which now offers them previously unimaginable connection with customers, need to be wary. Digital connectivity puts brands directly in front of their customers in an unprecedented way, but digital is by definition remote and inhuman, and as any traditional business knows successful contact with customers requires the human touch.

Digital technology already plays a big role in our lives – banking, shopping, socializing, dating and more. Soon it will be all-encompassing, as the revolution is still young and machines are getting smarter all the time. For businesses to run with this, much has been said about ‘digital transformation’. This is clearly essential but, according to Steven Van Belleghem a marketing professor at Vlerick Business School, this is not enough and there also needs to be a human transformation in customer relations – one that is digital but emphasizes the human interface.

Recent insights from neuroscience tell us how human decision making is driven by the emotional as much as, if not more than, the rational. Computers and e-commerce websites are not good at the emotional. Whereas it is the creative and empathetic human touch that we know makes people click with people. In this book Van Belleghem offers a vision of future marketing that combines savvy use of big data and all that digital can provide with a reinvigorated human approach to customer relations.

Using examples from newcomers like Uber and AirBnb and established brands such as Amazon, Apple, Toyota, ING, and Starbucks, Van Belleghem explains why introducing the human personal touch can be the difference between keeping and losing a customer. First, however, the digital has to be right. He is in no doubt that companies without a credible digital offering supported by a sound digital ecosystem will not survive, and so part of the book lays out a very useful template for digital transformation, covering digital marketing, big data and predictive analytics, privacy concerns, crowdsourcing, etc.

The second half of the book, which is confidently titled ‘Human Transformation’, looks at how technology is getting smarter in connecting with people, at the role of corporate leadership in setting the scene, and how organizations through what he calls ‘heartketing’ can build cultures that promote positive human connection with customers, and finally at how customers need to have a person to talk to not a robot or a screen and what a digitally transformed company needs to do to integrate this.

Here he addresses the central role people should be allowed to play in the customer relationship – moving them away from purely technical support roles, to ones where the emotional component comes to the fore and the customer is met with creativity, emotion and passion.

Van Belleghem’s argument that the human touch will become more, not less important, in the future, is a convincing one, and this book is a useful manual for any business that wants to know what to do about it.

Steven van Belleghem

Two related executive programs at Vlerick Business School:
> Digital Leadership – 22-26 Aug 2016
> Digital Strategy – 21-23 Sept 2016

When Digital Becomes Human: The Transformation of Customer Relations, Steven van Belleghem, published by Kogan Page, 2015, ISBN 978-0-7494-7323-5


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