Consumer expectations for business interactions have climbed to new heights. In many ways, though, this isn’t surprising. After all, it’s a natural outcome of our innate need for human connection.

During the heart of the pandemic, the loss of in-person interaction was felt acutely, a key reason so many struggled with social distancing measures and stay-at-home mandates. Everyone misses socializing in real life with colleagues, family, and friends.

Why Human Connection Is Vital

To understand why human connection means so much to us, it’s helpful to look back on history. In his 2016 book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” Yuval Noah Harari explains why humans are primarily social animals. One theory of language, for instance, is that it evolved as a way to gossip. “Social cooperation is our key to survival and reproduction,” Harari writes.

Indeed, the need to connect is evident in the relentless push throughout human history to develop new, more efficient modes of communication. A look at the evolution of communication technology puts this into perspective. Humans began to speak about 50,000 years ago and write sometime between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago when they drew symbols on sticks and eggshells. Both carrier pigeons and fire were once used to communicate across distances. For instance, around 200 BC, smoke signals were used to send messages along the Great Wall of China.

The invention of the printing press ushered in the era of mass communication. The telephone allowed private conversations between two people across distances. But modern communications technology has evolved faster over the last 15 years than at any other time. The combination of smartphones and social media has capitalized on our natural need for human connection.

As more people began working from home, video calls and Web chat became virtual lifelines to our wider business and social circles. At the same time, consumer shopping habits changed out of necessity and grew out of convenience. More people bought groceries online and had them delivered. Online grocery shopping has increased by more than 35% over pre-pandemic levels, according to McKinsey’s “The State of Grocery in North America 2023.”

The New Bar for Customer Experience

Low-touch behaviors, such as grocery delivery, curbside pickup, and buying online/pickup in-store, are here to stay, with e-commerce now making up 7.2% of all grocery shopping.

This rise in e-commerce and more people working from home are raising the bar on customer experience. Before the pandemic, businesses were beginning to focus on customer experience to differentiate themselves from their competition. But with more people shopping, working, and socializing online, developing a stellar customer experience for everyone will be more vital than ever.

Organizations were forced to adopt a digital-first approach because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This also meant that consumers unfamiliar with digital communications – such as older generations – had to adapt. Businesses that designed their digital experiences with accessibility and simplicity would provide new users with lower friction interaction and greater ease of use. Indeed, more than half (55%) of UK marketers said the consumer shift to online exposed gaps in the customer journey. That means there’s an enormous opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart by creating more personal interactions in the buying experience.

The good news is that businesses have the tools to connect with customers through digital channels. Today’s communication technology is rising to the occasion, enabling personalization at scale. It’s now possible to infuse the consumer journey with more human and personalized interactions using communications tools such as interactive self-service, video, and Web chat.

Our need for connection may evolve into new channels, but it’s an age-old desire. Delivering a more tailored, immediate, and satisfying omnichannel experience is the key to building brand loyalty now and well into the future.

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