3 minute read

The Human Imperative


Imagine one of the most deeply personal conversations of your life – a devastating terminal health diagnosis – being delivered by a robot.

This happened to a patient in a Fremont, CA hospital this year. He received the bad news when a telemedicine robot rolled into Ernesto Quintana’s hospital room and a remotely located physician informed Mr. Quintana by video call that his days were numbered.[1]

I imagined myself in such a situation, growing despondent over the depersonalization of our most sensitive encounters. As technology becomes pervasive across all areas of our lives, it’s time to reflect on critical philosophical questions about how and where to draw the line when technology becomes a poor substitute for human engagement.

Where once being tethered to advanced technology signaled importance and status (like carrying a pager in the 1980s), there are signs pointing to a pendulum swing in the other direction. A recent New York Times article claims conspicuous human interaction has become a status symbol. Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, is quoted, “What we are seeing now is the luxurification of human engagement.”[2]  

The myriad of ways that technology and automation have improved our lives can’t be overlooked. As a professional focused on strategically important innovations to advance the payments industry, I can easily identify dozens of ways technology has enhanced processes, created efficiencies, and resulted in customer delight. Many of these solutions were purposefully designed to reduce or eliminate human effort. But a shift in thinking is occurring, sharpening focus on managing the intersection between digital and personal interaction. Thought-leaders now advocate changes which optimize the benefits of both and strive for the delicate balance between the two at the appropriate time. A well-executed hybrid strategy can be an advantageous differentiator and a trust-builder among a sea of commoditized technological encounters.

My recent Saturday grocery run exemplifies a common “phygital” event that surprisingly exceeded expectations, creating satisfaction and increasing loyalty. I placed an online order for groceries Friday night and scheduled an 8 a.m. pickup. This workflow has the potential to feel almost anonymous – the store receives a list of items submitted to their app, an employee fulfills the order upon receipt, and the store knows via GPS when the customer has arrived in their parking lot. Without getting out of the car, the customer pops open their trunk for groceries to be loaded. This week, however, the store employee approached my car, introduced himself and called me by my name. He shook my hand, thanked me for my repeat business, informed me every item I ordered was in stock, and handed through my car window a small gift bag containing a bottle of juice, flower seeds, and planting gloves; along with the discount code “spring” for a few dollars off my next purchase. It was a routine commercial experience that made me feel valued. I smiled all the way home. Smart move for the grocery company, too – Accenture discovered that more than 90% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers.[3]

Luc Burgelman, founder of NGDATA, says, “The key to ‘humanizing the customer experience’ is authenticity, and creating a true people-focused core in which all interactions are individual.”[4]  Lipincott, a global consultancy, recently released guidelines for achieving this goal using behavioral science.[5]  They contend technology earns the right to become part of our daily lives when product design incorporates understanding, compassion, perceptiveness, and attentiveness; and creates user experiences that are welcoming, reassuring, and provide a sense of connection.[6]  

Lippicott’s Rupesh Patel sounds a cautionary note, “New technology will only survive if it is human focused.”[7] The banking industry should take heed. More than three-quarters of people – across all ages – value the human touch in banking.[8]  Your digital transformation initiatives will be incomplete without the human element at key intersections in the customer journey.



[1] “It should be done by a human.” California man learns he’s dying from doctor on robot video. The Denver Post, March 8, 2019.

[2] Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good. Nellie Bowles, The New York Times, March 23, 2019.

[3] Making It Personal – Pulse Check 2018. Accenture Interactive, 2018.

[4] 5 Keys to Humanizing the Digital Customer Experience. Luc Burgelman, Customer Think, January 22, 2018.

[5] 5 Ways To Design The Human Dimension Into Digital Retail. Pamela N. Danzinger, Forbes, February 10, 2019.

[6] Sensitive Technology: Principles for making technology human. Rupesh Patel & Dan Clay, Lippincott, 2019.

[7] 5 Ways To Design The Human Dimension Into Digital Retail. Pamela N. Danzinger, Forbes, February 10, 2019.

[8] Bank To The Future. CYBG, March 2019.

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