Sector News

The declining relevance of humans in delivering what customers want

July 10, 2022

Retailers and service providers should rethink where and how they deploy their sales agents. Data shows that current approaches aren’t delivering the experiences that consumers prefer.

Companies have long operated under the assumption that buyers want a human-led experience. But more than 6,000 consumers worldwide have flipped that conventional thinking on its head. A large-scale survey by Boston Consulting Group found that tech-savvy millennials and Gen-Z shoppers are comfortable navigating the purchasing journey independently, but when they need help, they prefer digital assistants to humans in most instances.

With spending among younger demographics expected to reach roughly $3 trillion by 2030 in the US retail sector alone, this finding presents a wake-up call and an opportunity for businesses across industries. To meet the needs of key audiences, companies will need to ramp up their digital engagement and rethink how they deploy their human talent.

Survey Respondents Prove Conventional Wisdom Wrong
We asked 6,200 individuals in China, France, and the US to comment on their purchasing experiences. Our research, conducted at the end of 2021, covered 10,000 customer journeys that encompassed buying groceries, shopping for a car, engaging with a bank, talking to a telecom provider, and picking out clothing.

We were particularly interested in understanding the value that customers ascribe to the digital and human sales agents they encounter in the buying process. Is one more effective than the other? Our hypothesis was that buyers would prefer people-led interactions. We thought that they may find bots clunky and see the rise in digital self-service interactions as self-serving on the part of the business—perhaps an effort to shift the “work” of purchasing to the customer.

We were wrong on nearly all counts. Older buyers, aged 55 and over, who rated themselves as not very technologically savvy, prefer traditional human-centered interactions. For younger participants, roughly aged 45 and under and tech savvy, digital self-service interactions are not just satisfactory but the preferred means of engagement in all but the most complex or high-stakes situations. And that dynamic proved especially true among millennials and their Gen-Z counterparts.1
Let’s look at what we learned in more detail.

Younger individuals crave autonomy. When it comes to interacting with service providers, 70% of younger buyers said that they try to use bots and self-service tools and avoid dealing with sales agents. This preference held true whether they were shopping in clothing boutiques and grocery stores or purchasing cars. In retail settings, for instance, 57% of younger buyers said that they favor self-service scan-and-go kiosks over cashiers when given the choice. (See Exhibit 1.) READ MORE

By Karen Lellouche Tordjman, Jean-Baptiste Bearez, Ariane Lafolie, and Antoine Philippon



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