The Digital Concierge Is Here

Plus: ChatGPT Can Now See, Hear, & Speak | What Gen Z Loves & Hates About Your Brand | Meeting Bloat—can it be stopped?

Greetings fellow Fringers. Today, a Salesforce SVP says: The digital concierge for eCommerce is here. Also, an essay on how to apply a more human touch to all of your digital interactions.

Here’s the full slate:

  • Editorial: How To Give Digital The Human Touch

  • The Latest: ChatGPT can now see, hear, and speak

  • BX: What Gen Z loves—and hates—about brand marketing

  • MX: From Kantar: 5 Keys To Persuasion Marketing

  • UX: 9 Stand-Out eCommerce Web Design Trends of 2023

  • CX: The Digital Concierge for eCommerce Is Here with Salesforce’s SVP Kelly Thacker

  • EX: From Vice: Meeting Bloat. Can it be stopped?

  • DX: From HBR: How data-driven decisions help restaurants stay competitive

Ready to dive in?

How To Give Digital The Human Touch

Two weeks ago, I explained why the human touch matters more than ever—especially in the coming age of AI.

I gave a quick overview of The Human Touch Matrix that consists of the following elements or components:

  • Personal

  • Contextual

  • Beautiful

  • Relevant

Like so:

Your aspirational goal, when it comes to relationships, personal or professional, is to make every interaction count. In business, when you make interactions meaningful, you’re likely to generate more transactions—as long as the basics are covered because…

Interactions —> Transactions

How you interact will determine whether you transact. But you don’t want mere transactions—you want quality transactions because quality probably means more repeat business for you. Or put another way:

Quality Interactions —> Quality Transactions

The HT matrix is a reminder, or a prompt to put forward your best effort, and that the goal is to simply bring your best to that interaction. In the previous newsletter, I talked about what a meaningful interaction could look like, in the context of a business conference.

Now let’s break down each component of the matrix, so you see what your tech stack should aspire to, and how it could attempt to replicate meaningful interactions—at scale.

Personal (The “Who”)

Who are all these people that our business interacts with on a daily basis? We don’t know them, so they remain strangers. This is where technology fails to replicate that “human touch”. It simply cannot take the place of another human.

But what it can do is simulate this essence on our behalf, and make every interaction feel a bit more human, even though it can never be.

And simulation is enough, because that alone can change how someone feels about their day, their week, their year, or their life. AI has the ability to do things we have never seen before.

But in order to simulate the Personal side, we need data. How can I personalize an interaction if I don’t know the basics about you. We humans are great at extracting personal data through a simple conversation. It’s just what we do.

So Personal kicks the entire matrix off, because it’s the foundation of every meaningful interaction.

Hey, what’s your name?

Where are you from?

Family? Pets?

What’s your favorite ice cream?

It seems benign, but it’s powerful because it’s personal. This data also implies a silent agreement—don’t abuse it. Someone is trusting you with personal information, and your job is to use it, yes, but only to enhance the relationship. It’s a value exchange, not an extraction.

Here’s the Personal side of the matrix, from a technical perspective:

  1. Identity Data: This is your foundational data—name, age, gender, and so on. It's the starting point for any meaningful interaction.

  2. Behavioral Data: Like digital body language—clicks, time spent on a page, items added to a cart. It not only informs the "Who" but also helps tailor the "Relevant" and "Beautiful" aspects of the interaction.

  3. Transactional Data: Past purchases and behaviors aren't just history; they're a roadmap to making future interactions more "Relevant."

Remember, Personal is the foundation for any kind of relationship, and the basis for all personalized interactions you will have with someone.

Contextual (The “Where” and the “How”)

When I think of context, there’s nothing like the dream and waking states. They are different worlds, within one mind. And both require a different approach. Think Inception…

Any world you live in has its own context—it’s the setting in which we conduct business, live our personal lives, and try to make sense out of everything. Context has two major factors influencing it:

  • Environment

  • Situational

Environmental factors could give you a little more information about who you’re interacting with, like:

  • What kinds of clothes do they wear?

  • How do they talk?

  • Where do they live?

  • In what location are you interacting with them?

  • What season are they in? (Time, more broadly speaking)

And so on. Situational factors are the immediate circumstances that influence the interaction, such as:

  • What problem are they currently facing?

  • What is their emotional state?

  • Are they in a hurry or do they have time? (Time, in the current sense)

  • What have they just experienced prior to this interaction?

  • What are they hoping to achieve from this interaction, if anything?

These situational elements can drastically change the dynamics of an interaction and dictate how you should approach it for maximum relevance and impact.

Again, there are always clues, and when these factors aren’t obvious, then you can just ask. With the right questions, you can uncover the current circumstance or situation someone is in.

From a technical perspective, Contextual also reveals critical data points for digital interactions:

  1. Device & Platform: Is the customer on mobile or desktop? Are they using an app or a web browser? The experience should be optimized accordingly.

  2. Location Data: This is the geographical "where." Geo-location can offer insights into local preferences or even logistical considerations like shipping times.

  3. Customer Journey Stage: Is this the customer's first interaction with the brand, or are they a long-time customer? The context of their relationship with your brand informs every interaction.

  4. Environmental Data: This could be external factors like time of day, weather, or even current events. For example, offering a special on umbrellas when before the rain season.

  5. Situational Data: What problem are they currently facing? What’s driving them to your site? What functional, emotional, or social challenges are they currently facing and how does your product or service address them?

Time is interesting because it falls under both Environmental and Situational factors:

  • Environmental: What time of the year is it? Is it a holiday season where the person might be more stressed or in a celebratory mood? This is a much broader context.

  • Situational: What time of the day is it? Are they likely to be in a rush during morning hours, or more relaxed during the evening? This is the more current context.

It can get quite complex, but Contextual clues can feed you so much rich data to enhance the quality of your interactions. Today’s AI technology can help you with this.

Finally, the Personal and Contextual components of the matrix lay the data groundwork for the final two pieces of the puzzle. They are the inputs, for the Beautiful and Relevant outputs.

Beautiful (The “X” Factor)

This is where the designers and creatives get excited, because they understand it’s not just the icing on the cake, it can also be the cake, if done well. Many times, design and UX can make all the difference in the world.

Apple always leads with design & UX

There’s a reason that Apple is a TRILLION dollar company. From product packaging to digital experiences to some memorable microcopy, the way you do things can produce 10x or even 100x results. They’re all just interactions in the end.

Beautiful is the secret sauce to every meaningful interaction you’ve ever had. For example, memorable human interactions could be simple things like:

  • A smile or eye contact

  • Tone of voice

  • Easter eggs on a website

  • Memorable

In the digital world, you can leverage some of these seemingly “ordinary” things for an added layer of emotional resonance. These include:

  • Design Aesthetics: Good design isn't just eye candy. It guides focus and can make an interaction more "Relevant" by highlighting what truly matters.

  • User Experience (UX): A frictionless experience isn't just beautiful; it's "Relevant" because it meets the user's intent without any hiccups.

  • Emotional Resonance: This is where you connect on a deeper, more "Personal" level. It's the storytelling aspect that turns customers into advocates.

  • Surprise and Delight: These are your Easter eggs—the unexpected extras that can be "Contextual," like offering a weather-related freebie.

For the DoubleTree Hotels, it’s a pair of chocolate chip cookies waiting for you on the bed. For the Cheesecake Factory, it’s their encyclopedic menu that everyone once raved about on social media.

Beautiful is the 'X-factor' that turns a routine exchange into a memorable moment. When an interaction is beautiful, it makes the interaction feel even more intimate, the experience more relevant.

Beautiful then serves as the emotional or aesthetic layer that elevates the interaction from merely effective to truly memorable (again, referring to the 4 Levels of Experience). Beautiful is the "art" to the "science" of the other three components.

Relevant (The “What” and the “Why”)

Every quadrant must work together to ultimately deliver a Relevant outcome, or in this case, interaction. The more relevant the interaction, the more memorable and meaningful it becomes.

When I think of Relevant, I think of The Bear. Here’s what I mean:

That particular restaurant experience is what you call doing business right. The amount of “research” they do for each and every customer before they come into the restaurant blows the mind. This is the level of personalization that every company strives for, even though it’s difficult to pull off—especially at scale.

But that’s the goal, right? We’re all trying to achieve this at scale, but in order to do this well, we need the other quadrants of the matrix to feed the Relevant quadrant. Like so:

Again, relevance is not the end goal here. It’s the consistent relevant interactions that, hopefully, climb the ladder of memorable, to meaningful, to transformational experiences. This happens over time.

Relevant conversations or actions are substantive. It’s “what” you bring to the table (an offer), and “why” it matters to them. In a business context, be more mindful of:

  • Customer Intent: This is about understanding what the customer is actively seeking. Are they in the research phase, or are they ready to make a purchase? This is the "what" they want.

  • Situational Triggers: These are events or circumstances that might prompt a need for your product or service. They could be life events like moving, having a baby, or even seasonal changes. Or something that came up “today”. This is part of the "why" they want it.

  • Personalized Recommendations: Based on past behavior and preferences, what would be the most relevant product or content to show? This is another "what."

  • Timeliness: This is about being relevant not just in terms of content but also timing. For example, imagine a shopper browsing for a winter coat in your eCommerce store. Just as they're about to leave the page, your offer a downloadable guide on "How to Choose the Perfect Winter Coat."

Remember: relevance is a cornerstone of the matrix, not the end game. All four quadrants should build towards a remarkable interaction in the end.

Hopefully, applying a more human touch, in digital form, will help you provide a more elevated experience, and more impact in the end.

Now, on to the news…

The Latest

ChatGPT can now ‘see’ and ‘hear’ and ‘speak’.

“Seeing” with ChatGPT

Open AI just announced in a recent blog post that ChatGPT can see, hear, and speak. Although not every feature is available quite yet (at least not on my Android), people are starting to post the results.

And they’re pretty impressive…

And here’s Mashable with 7 “wild ways” people are using this new feature (including the example above).

From WaPo: AI is replacing customer service jobs across the globe

ChatGPT provided better customer service than his staff. So he fired them.

You knew it would happen sooner or later. And all those call centers or “live chat” humans in other countries will take the hit first. For profit margins, this is great news. For shoppers and customers, will Gen AI tools provide better service in the end?

The effect to the economy will be undeniable, he said, and Indian outsourcing companies will need to adapt artificial intelligence into their operations quickly if they seek to keep jobs from going elsewhere. “India has to embrace augmentation faster than any other country,” Sharma said. “That is the conversation that is taking place.”

H&M is the latest brand to charge for returns—and that might be good for the planet

Free returns come with an environmental cost, namely more pollution and waste. Now, H&M says no more. It joins Zara, Uniqlo, and several other clothing brands cutting their own costs by nixing free returns.

Is this better for the planet? Probably. If around half of all online purchases are returned, then the impact over time could be devastating—because nearly 10 billion pounds of returned purchases found their way to the landfill.

Brand Experience

What Gen Z loves—and hates—about brand marketing (from their mouths)

Ad Age did an AMA with a few Gen Z-focused marketing professionals. Here’s some highlights of what’s working—and not working—with that audience:

What's Working for Gen Z Audiences:

  • Personalization and Customization: Albanus notes, “Brands such as Nike and Amazon have leveraged data-driven insights and AI to offer customized experiences.”

  • Emotional Connection Through Storytelling: Shuai values brands that create unique stories around their products, stating, “It’s hard for me to feel an emotional connection with products unless they have something deeper to them.”

  • Inclusivity and Cultural Sensitivity: Brands that embrace diversity and inclusivity are resonating well. Albanus highlights, “Brands embracing diversity and catering to global audiences demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity.”

  • Try-Before-You-Buy Models: Shuai appreciates this approach, especially in skincare, saying, “This level of flexibility and understanding allows consumers to feel more comfortable.”

What's Not Working for Gen Z Audiences

  • Lack of Authentic Community Engagement: Ahmed wishes brands would stop “reading white papers about communities instead of actually building long-term, meaningful relationships.”

  • Advertising Overload: Albanus points out that excessive online advertising leads to ad fatigue, stating, “69% [of Gen Z] actively avoiding ads, compared with a global average of 50%.”

  • Inauthentic Influencer Marketing: Shuai is turned off by paid influencer ads, saying, “the way it’s being marketed doesn’t feel genuine.

Marketing Experience

5 Keys to Persuasion Marketing

I really enjoyed this article by Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar.

Some notable quotes from this piece alone:

“Most of the focus in marketing is on the individual buyer to the exclusion of the social context within which decision-making occurs.”

The biggest challenge in marketing is indifference. What I’ve learned is that you overcome indifference by asking less of consumers not more.

Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar

“Most of our focus in marketing is on brand benefits. What I’ve learned is that the message itself must deliver a beneficial experience, too. We want ads to be humorous or immersive or mini-movies or provocative because people enjoy ads that are stimulating and engaging.”

User Experience

9 Stand Out eCommerce Web Trends 2023

Check out some of the latest trends in web for eCommerce. From animated product explainers to scrollytelling (yes, it’s a thing).

Customer Experience

The Digital Concierge for eCommerce Is Here

According to Kelly Thacker, CMO, Retail & Consumer Goods at Salesforce:

“What has traditionally been the domain of in-store sales and service personnel is now being replicated online with the help of generative AI. Digital concierges are helping online shoppers discover products seamlessly, providing a white-glove service experience at scale.”

Shout out to “digital concierges” everywhere 😉 

Read more here.

Employee Experience

Meeting Bloat Has Taken Over Corporate America. Can It Be Stopped?

Gotta love this one from Vice. Here’s the intro:

Since the pandemic, the sheer number of useless meetings has grown out of control. Some people are starting to fight back.

In July, the Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify unveiled an internal tool that was able to calculate and display the estimated cost of a proposed meeting by any of its employees.

The point of the tool, called the Shopify Meeting Cost Calculator, was not so much to point out an exact dollar value as to make employees think twice before they asked their co-workers to take a break from their work to come together at the exact same time and talk.


Data Experience

How Data-Driven Decisions Help Restaurants Stay Competitive

Lots of great stuff in this one from HBR. I know it’s the restaurant industry, but there are many crossover lessons for eCommerce. Some highlights:

  1. Data-Driven Personalization: Obvious.

  2. Location Intelligence: Do more geo-targeting and localized marketing strategies.

  3. Customer Selection: Restaurants are using data to prioritize reservations for loyal or high-spending customers. Similarly, you can use data to segment customers and offer exclusive deals or early access to sales for VIP customers.

  4. Data Ownership: Maintaining control and ownership of your customer data is crucial for long-term success.

Have a great weekend.


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