There’s hardly anything in our daily lives that remains untouched by technology. But even as we become increasingly dependent on digital technology, the value we place on face-to-face interactions grows. It’s growing so much, in fact, that the future of communications in customer service will depend as much on people as it will on technology.

We’ve all heard or read about stellar customer experiences that go beyond our expectations. For example, Forbes Contributor Shep Hyken relates how a Trader Joe’s employee helped a woman get food to her elderly father who was snowed in at his apartment. Trader Joe’s doesn’t normally deliver. Not only did they make an exception, the employee helped the daughter choose foods for her father’s low-sodium diet.

Trader Joe’s didn’t stop there. The food was delivered half an hour after the call, and the store didn’t charge the woman.

Stories like these tend to have one thing in common: a human element. A personal interaction takes place, and decisions are made out of empathy or understanding. As a result, the customer is delighted, the story goes viral and the company wins new customers as well as the continued loyalty of existing customers. These personal interactions are, in short, priceless.

Compare that to many of today’s customer service technologies. The goal, in most cases, is to reduce personal interactions as much as possible for the sake of lowering costs and improving efficiencies. But that’s not enough to elevate customer service.

Forbes Contributor Shep Hyken sums it up nicely:

“Systems that deliver a world-class customer experience start with people. And those individuals need to be great communicators. But further than that, the systems in which they work need to be designed to facilitate and promote communication. You can’t have great communicators working in a system that thwarts their ability to achieve that goal. On the flip side, you don’t want to spend countless hours building a system that promotes great communication and then staff it with people who don’t communicate well.”

People + Technology = Success

Hyken identifies two factors that are necessary for world-class customer service: people who are great communicators and technology that removes the barriers to great communications. Let’s consider how such a technology could be used.

Ideally, the technology that fulfills these requirements is used to facilitate communications both internally and externally. Hiring managers use it to expand the candidate pool beyond the immediate region and to gauge individual candidates’ ability to effectively communicate. The same technology enables agents to participate in live training from any location, as well as to solve problems faster by pulling experts in on customer service calls. Finally, customers use it to initiate meaningful interactions with agents via click-to-chat functionality. Video collaboration can be used to achieve all of this.

The Power of Video

High quality video allows participants to interact as if they are in the same room. Agents, hiring managers, customers and trainers can see each other and respond to non-verbal queues like facial expressions and hand gestures, making for a more meaningful and personal experience. When such a system is easy to use and integrated into workflows, it becomes a natural way of doing business.

Exego Group, a reseller and supplier of automotive parts and accessories in Australia and New Zealand, experienced this first hand. “With video, we can all see each other as clearly as if we were in the same room, which has created more productive working relationships and increased staff satisfaction,” Alan Hodgson, the company’s telephony manager, said.

The Power of People

But the video collaboration technology is only part of the equation that led to Exego Group’s success. Employees quickly recognized the benefits of face-to-face interactions via video, and the boardrooms became overbooked as use expanded beyond executive meetings to include training sessions, product demonstrations and customer interviews.

Hodgson said, “ …our employees understand the value of video. It is now a vital component of our daily business life.”

As for cost, the company has seen benefits there, too. Exego Group initially deployed telepresence systems in the boardrooms of the company’s four head offices. In just 18 months Exego Group experienced significant return on investment, expanding from five users to over 300 users. That equates to a 320% increase in month-on-month usage.

Automated, self-service interactions will always have their place in customer service. But making these faceless systems the answer to every customer inquiry commoditizes your business. The future of customer communications is where people and technology intersect to deliver face-to-face communications, wherever and whenever. That’s where meaningful customer engagement resides, and where customer loyalty is born.