In the customer experience (CX) world, “touchpoints” have been the buzzword for years. Companies have been optimizing these contact points between customers and brands, whether it’s an app interface, a website, or a retail store. However, as customer expectations rise in our increasingly digital era, there’s a compelling need to move beyond touchpoints to “People Interfaces.”
People Interfaces don’t merely act as points of interaction; they go beyond, serving as dynamic platforms for meaningful, human-centric experiences. They are the multidimensional landscapes where brands and customers can build genuine relationships through omnichannel and multi-sensory experiences.
The Outdated Touchpoint Concept
Traditional touchpoints like in-store displays, print ads, and websites were revolutionary in the past. They provided companies a way to meet customers where they naturally frequented. At the time, this kind of targeted outreach was novel and compelling. However, as technology and consumer behavior have evolved, these touchpoints have started to show their age, falling short in the era of Customer Transformation.
Today, consumers are inundated with marketing messages. Estimates suggest that the average person encounters 6,000 to 10,000 ads daily, creating a sea of noise and making it increasingly difficult for any touchpoint to make a meaningful impact. This reality underscores the urgency for Customer Transformation, where traditional touchpoints in such a cluttered landscape must evolve to capture attention and engage the consumer meaningfully.
The limitation also lies in the kind of engagement that traditional touchpoints offer. They are predominantly uni-sensory, focusing almost exclusively on visual or auditory stimuli. For instance, a billboard only engages your sense of sight, and a radio advertisement only engages your hearing. This unidimensional approach to customer engagement is critical in an age where consumers seek immersive and interactive experiences that simultaneously engage multiple senses.
Additionally, traditional touchpoints often operate in silos. Your in-store experience rarely talks to your online experience, creating disjointed customer journeys that feel impersonal and fragmented. According to a study by Salesforce, 88% of customers say that a company’s experience is as important as its products or services. In an age where customer experience is king, these disconnected touchpoints significantly hamper brand perception and customer loyalty.
While traditional touchpoints may still have a role, they no longer serve as the backbone of a customer engagement strategy in a landscape undergoing rapid Customer Transformation. The time has come for a more holistic, multi-sensory approach to resonate with today’s consumers truly.
What are People Interfaces?
Traditional touchpoints focus on isolated interactions that a customer has with a brand. They are snapshots, crucial but detached, often designed to meet business metrics rather than human needs. In contrast, People Interfaces takes a holistic view of the customer journey. They weave touchpoints into a coherent narrative, considering individual preferences, emotions, and sensory experiences.
The Role of APIs in Creating People Interfaces
The construction of People Interfaces often requires a robust backend supported by well-designed Application Programming Interfaces, or as I call them, Application People Interfaces. APIs serve as the glue that combines different technologies and data points into a seamless user experience. However, instead of an endpoint, APIs should be viewed as enablers in creating meaningful People Interfaces.
Think about it this way: APIs lay the groundwork for digital architecture, but People Interfaces build upon it, focusing on the aesthetics, the atmosphere, and the emotional responses they can invoke.
In the traditional touchpoint model, experiences are often built based on what works best for the company’s internal systems. People Interfaces, on the other hand, follow an outside-in approach. Every feature is crafted with the end-user in mind, focusing on customization, ease of use, and emotional connection.
Integrating People Interfaces Internally
An often-overlooked aspect is how People Interfaces also serve internal users—employees. Just like external customers, employees have their expectations and preferences. Systems designed to improve internal workflows or manage employee tasks should also embrace the concept of People Interfaces, ensuring that they meet the needs of the people who use them daily.
The Multi-Sensory Revolution
In 1960, the Smell-O-Vision system was created to emit scents synchronously with the projection of a film, allowing theater viewers to experience aromas that corresponded with each scene. The mechanism involved the release of 30 distinct fragrances that were triggered by specific cues in the film’s soundtrack and emitted from movie theater seats. In essence, Smell-O-Vision offered a multi-sensory experience, allowing the audience to see, hear, and smell what was happening on screen.
Today, we have many technologies that can harness these senses.
- Sight: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) offer immersive visual experiences that transcend flat, 2D engagements.
- Voice: Smart home systems like Google Home and Amazon Alexa have made voice-activated interfaces an everyday reality.
- Sound: Podcasts and audio platforms deliver brand messages directly into consumers’ ears.
- Taste and Smell: Although still nascent, technologies like ‘Taste TVs‘ being researched in Japan show promise in incorporating these senses into customer interactions.
Imagine walking into a store and experiencing what you can see or hear and what you can smell, taste, and feel—all perfectly orchestrated to offer an unforgettable shopping experience.
In a grocery store, you notice a recipe on the back of a box. You pull out your phone, scan the recipe, and instantly, an AR video cooking demonstration plays with the scent of the recipe materializing out of your phone. And why not lick that screen to get the full flavor?
Granted, we may be a little away from this type of experience. However, the point here is to begin thinking in this way. The integration of “non-touch” points is the definition of people interfaces.
Case Study: Ulta Beauty
Ulta Beauty is constantly reimagining customer engagement through its innovative GLAMLab application. A shining example of a “people interface,” GLAMLab combines elements of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), and machine learning to offer a hyper-personalized, multi-sensory, and interactive experience for its customers.
Virtual Try-On With Unmatched Realism
GLAMLab‘s virtual try-on feature uses a custom, highly optimized graphics engine to render makeup with remarkable realism. The digital product descriptions in GLAMLab leverage careful data analysis and a deep understanding of the products. All products are physically swatched and translated into digital representations of color, texture, and finish to provide an AR experience as close to reality as possible.
AI and AR at its Best: The Shade Finder
GLAMLab doesn’t stop at just showing you how a product would look; it further recommends what would look best on you. The Shade Finder feature employs deep learning models trained on diverse face datasets, using real-time light estimation to accurately ascertain a customer’s skin tone and undertone. It then uses this data and the customer’s purchase history to offer personalized product recommendations through a custom AI engine.
Beyond Makeup: Understanding Skin Conditions
GLAMLab goes beyond just makeup. Its AR/AI-driven capabilities also offer customers a personalized skin analysis, diagnosing conditions like redness, breakouts, and dark spots. The outcome? Curated, customized skincare recommendations are highly relevant to the individual’s skin conditions and goals.
The Real-World Impact
GLAMLab’s usage increased by five times during the pandemic, with 25 million shades tried on in the post-Covid-19 environment. As consumers gradually return to in-store shopping, Ulta believes that tech experiences like GLAMLab will continue to be a vital part of the customer journey. The concept of “try-before-you-buy” has been significantly amplified by GLAMLab, boosting customer confidence and satisfaction and ultimately reducing return rates.
Aligning with Future Shopping Behaviors
Ulta Beauty’s GLAMLab is not just a feature-rich app but a blueprint for the future of customer engagement. By focusing on a “people interface” that merges AI, AR, and real-time analytics, Ulta Beauty has created a multi-sensory, highly personalized, and immensely engaging customer experience that is more relevant than ever—both online and in-store.
The Rise of People Interfaces
But it’s not just about involving all senses; it’s about human-centric design that understands and caters to individual preferences and behaviors. People interfaces go beyond the limitations of screens and store layouts to capture a 720-degree view of the customer. They are more intuitive, adaptable, and capable of a two-way dialogue with the customer.
- Increased Engagement: Multi-sensory experiences are more compelling, leading to longer interactions and better retention.
- Higher Conversion Rates: Personalized, relevant engagements naturally lead to higher conversion rates.
- Customer Loyalty: Unique, memorable experiences foster emotional connections, which can translate into long-term customer loyalty.
The shift from traditional touchpoints to multi-sensory people interfaces is not just a trend but an imperative in today’s customer-centric world. Brands that fail to adapt risk becoming irrelevant in an ecosystem where consumer expectations are ever-evolving. As technology continues to advance, so will how businesses and customers interact. The question is, are you ready to move beyond touchpoints?
The next time you think of customer engagement, think people interfaces—multi-sensory, human, and revolutionary.
Learn more about people interfaces in my book “Customer Transformation.” Get your copy today!