Your Customer Engagement Screens Are Probably Bullshit

March 30, 2016 by Dave Haynes


One of the things that has bothered me for years about digital signage product marketing is the heavy, almost maniacal use of terms like engagement, experience and immersive by some companies.

It’s this idea and assumption I see repeatedly that putting a touchscreen or some interactive tool in a store or public space somehow makes for an “engaging” interaction, or even better, an “experience.”

Ooooo … an experience!!!

Sometimes, that really happens. A lot of times, it’s bullshit. And you see it in how lonely many of these screens are, after they’ve been switched on and running for a few weeks and months.

That’s long been my gut feeling, but now research is coming in that’s saying pretty much the same thing.

Consulting giant Accenture recently released an Accenture Strategy report called Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement’, which comes out of the company’s 11th annual Global Consumer Pulse Research. That survey gauges the experiences and attitudes of 24,489 consumers around the world about marketing, sales and customer services.

It takes on the idea that adding more digital capability makes for better engagement and experiences, and says 83 percent of U.S. consumers, for example, would prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve things like customer services issues. It is, of course, not just focused on interactive digital screens, but the learnings apply.

This is the section in the report that really resonates for me:

Digital isn’t disruptive. Human beings are.

Customers aren’t as predictable as we’d like to think. This is certainly evident in the way they choose their interaction channels. Nearly half of consumers (48 percent) are comfortable crossing back and forth between digital and physical interactions with companies, even within a single interaction.

Customers choose the form of engagement they believe will best solve a particular problem, satisfy a goal or simply provide the best experience. They base their channel decision at any given time on three factors:

Their intention. Are they browsing for product information? Seeking advice or service? Ready to make a purchase?

Their circumstance. What channel options are available to them at the time they want to interact? How much time do they have to resolve their problem or search for information? Do they want to communicate while “on the go?” Or are they looking to interact from their home, where more channel options are available to them?

Their past experiences. Have they been pleased with a provider’s online chat feature in the past—or dissatisfied with long call center wait times? Are they simply more comfortable with in-store, personalized service?

Complicating matters is the fact that none of these variables is stable. A consumer’s intention, circumstance and experience can change quickly— even within a single interaction. That fluidity can pose big problems for companies unable to keep up.

Our research found that 73 percent of consumers become frustrated when providers fail to offer convenient interaction methods. And 59 percent are frustrated when they can’t access the information they want in their channel of choice.

I do a fair amount of speaking at conferences and to private groups, like executive teams or manufacturer user forums, and one of the ideas that tends to get trotted out by me is the notion of tuning the technology, message and, more than anything, the purpose … to the moment.

That’s what the survey shows. Make the interaction about the moment, not about the thing … whatever that thing is. Touchscreen. Gesture. Phone to screen. Name it.

I’ve walked through countless stores that have interactive screens mounted on support columns, that have product directories that are just mirrored versions of what’s online, and on people’s phones. They’re usually sitting dormant, because there’s no particular reason presented, or scenario in place, that’s going to compel people to walk up and start boinking away at the screen … unless they’re bored, or there’s no staff in sight.

Take a look at this interactive screen (top of post), at a retailer that spend a freakin’ fortune on a whiz-bang flagship store. The prompt encourages shoppers to touch the screen to get started. On what? Why?

I did touch it, and within a few seconds, I shrugged and walked off. There was nothing on there that was going to enhance my shopping experience. I never saw anyone else use it in the 15 minutes I walked around the store. … Maybe there was a line-up as soon as I left.

On the flip side, think about interactive screens that attract people like the wasps find and buzz lemonade stands. There are Directories that help you locate things, or the best thing ever, airline check-in screens that allow people to dodge one ghastly line-up so they can get into the next ghastly line-up at security screening.

Companies and organizations put in interactive screens for a bunch of reasons, and some do a very good job of making something better, easier or faster. I like, for example, some of the utility being built into dressing room mirrors, that get a sales associate bringing in a different size of an item, so the shopper doesn’t have to suit back up and go find the piece themselves. THAT’S better.

But there are a lot of people on both sides of the digital signage table – buyers and sellers – who are guilty of spending  money and resources on tech – sold in as offering new levels of engagement, or experience – that is just stuff, with no real or sound strategy, that only delivers modest or, often, no real impact.

And I’m not buying this oft-touted notion that screens demonstrate to consumers that the retailer or venue is “innovative.” EVERYBODY has a touchscreen in their hands these days, with apps that typically kick the butts of the ones on the screens. Why would screens hung around a shop or lobby make them think: “Wow, how innovative of them!”

“U.S. companies have reached a tipping point in their customer’s digital intensity and need to rebalance their digital and traditional customer services investments if they want to improve loyalty, differentiate themselves and drive growth,” says Kevin Quiring, Managing Director, Advanced Customer Strategy, North America Lead, Accenture Strategy. “Companies abandon the human connection at their own risk and are facing the need to rebuild it to deliver the varied and tailored outcomes that customers demand.”

There’s a place for this stuff. But a touchscreen on a wall is not engaging or experiential just because it’s there. I wrote the other day about a vending machine company that somehow described its 22-inch ad screen as immersive.

Bullshit. You buy something. You watch an ad before what you ordered drops into the slot. How is that heightening our senses?

The people selling interactive screen tech, and the people buying and using it, must have clear ideas on:

If there’s no clarity on those questions, those expensive screens face lonely, orphaned futures – because they’re just things it’s hoped people might use.

Their proponents are going to be looking at each other, wondering why they did it.

Here’s what Accenture suggests:

1. Put the human and physical elements back into customer services: Rethink your investment strategy. The focus should be on delivering satisfying customer experiences – not methods of interaction. Ensure your channel management approach delivers integrated experiences.

2. Make it easy for customers to switch channels to get the experiences they want: Build customer service channels that enable consumers to fluidly move from digital to human interaction to get the outcomes they desire.

3. Root out toxicity: Define and address the most toxic customer experiences across all channels. These experiences can directly impact profitability. Identify the experiences that have the greatest potential downside and leverage those insights to guide an investment strategy.

Me – so maybe a queue management screen and system in a busy store or service center makes more sense than a sexy product look-up screen?

4. Guarantee personal data security: 92 percent of consumers say it is extremely important that companies protect the privacy of their personal information. By not selling or sharing customer data with other companies, and guaranteeing that safeguards are in place to protect it, consumers will be more willing to hand over personal information which can be leveraged to deliver better experiences.

Good report … and the price is right (free). 

Agree or disagree? Add your comments …

  1. Hi

    Nice article.

    What bothers me most is to see that there are still companies that manufacture kiosks with the grooves of ventilation in the front of the kiosks

  2. Nick Spanos says:

    Customers are not homogeneous. A single message in a single medium will only be effective with a segment of the potential customer base. A substantial % of the population is over the age of 50 and yet marketing mediums and messages are targeted to the younger tech-savvy millenials and Gen-Xers.

    Marketing is like the Academy Awards. The message and format appeal to the advertiser but not necessarily to the potential customer. Oscars are awarded to movies that appeal to industry critics and industry professionals. The movies that appeal to movie-goers (and make the most money) frequently do not get awards.

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