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Contactless Society: Cause for Concern?

Contactless Society: Cause for Concern?

Considering today’s society, it’s extremely likely that each person reading this blog has had numerous “contactless experiences” at this point. What exactly does that mean? By definition, a contactless experience is one where a consumer does not have to physically touch or interact with a person or piece of equipment from a business to complete their desired transaction.

Although contactless experiences were already starting to spread across market verticals before 2020, once COVID-19 regulations were enacted, the adoption of this trend sped up rapidly. This is because the demand for contactless services of all kinds was on the rise as people tried to go on with their lives while remaining socially distant. Gone were the days of leisurely strolling through grocery stores, trying on clothes in fitting rooms or testing beauty products before purchasing them, and ordering off paper menus at restaurants. 

The pandemic was a real turning point, and even though the lockdowns didn’t last forever, some of the changes this period sparked have remained. One survey conducted in 2020 stated that while less than half of consumers (45%) considered contactless experiences important before COVID-19, nearly double that number (82%) said those experiences would continue to be important to them. This appears to be true because the technology that enables contactless experiences has continued to be developed and used. 

Such technologies include big data analytics, automated software, robotics, machine learning, sensors, computer vision, augmented reality, computer-aided holography, and the big one – artificial intelligence. But why is society adopting these technologies, despite some of their known downsides, and choosing the path of decreased human interaction? Perhaps the most prudent answer is that this shift may save large companies money in the long run. However, consumers are also seeking these contactless experiences, stating that they’re faster and easier overall. 

The younger generations are pushing this movement forward the most. Nine in 10 Gen Z individuals say they find contactless experiences valuable and an important part of their decision-making process. As time goes on, this generation will only continue to make up more and more of the consumer population, so their opinion should certainly matter to all companies. 

Amazon Go understood the assignment when it developed “Just Walk Out” technology that utilizes sensors and computer vision to detect when consumers take, or return, products to shelves in its stores. To enter these stores, customers must either use a QR code from the Amazon app or insert a credit card, so they don’t have to download the app or set up an account. With this information and the detection technology, Amazon Go can track items taken from the shelf in a virtual cart and charge customers automatically once they leave. 

Now, this is a pretty high-tech and rare example. However, there are plenty more: virtual telemedicine appointments, contactless curbside pickup or delivery, website features that show you what a piece of furniture will look like in your home or how a makeup product will look on your face, mechanics sharing car diagnosis via texts with videos and forms that allow you to respond without ever actually speaking, and QR codes that alert sales associates for assistance in retail stores, just to name a few. Banking is one vertical that has changed dramatically due to this shift in our society. Contactless debit and credit cards, mobile wallets like Apple Pay, payment service apps like Venmo, and cryptocurrencies have all taken the world by storm.

Of course, a societal shift of this size, especially one that occurred so quickly, brings at least as many challenges as solutions. A considerable pain point is the lack of consistency in contactless experiences from industry to industry, business to business, and even within the same company. This can cause confusion and frustration among consumers.

It’s also worth questioning how far we are going to take this. What can and cannot be achieved through contactless experiences? Even when examining the success of well-established e-commerce, sometimes don’t you want to see an item in person and physically touch it before making a final purchase decision? For example, if you’ve ordered from a grocery delivery app on a frequent enough basis, you’ve probably received an occasional produce item that was a bit too squishy or brown for your liking. 

Plus, think about your other senses, like smell and hearing. Ordering a candle or perfume online is always a risky move. Electronics like stereos and TVs are on display and running in brick-and-mortar stores for a reason. Many items are worth trying before buying. How many times have you ordered clothes online only to receive something that doesn’t fit the way you thought it would? Taking it a step further, would you feel comfortable getting a new car without test-driving it? 

Beyond products, when you get into complex services, it begins to feel like contactless experiences alone aren’t going to cut it. Ordering an expensive bottle of wine with a QR code instead of consulting a sommelier just seems off. How about financial advisors? It’s a little uncomfortable giving AI sensitive information and asking it for guidance on what to do with your hard-earned money. Without human interaction, there is little to no established trust, artful curation, informed assistance, warm support, and other nuances that technology can’t quite replicate.

In some cases, there is a man behind the curtain. But can consumers get a hold of him? Anyone who’s dealt with an IT issue (so almost everyone) knows that when it comes to technology, there will be a problem at some point. 

Considering that, it’s no surprise that 29% of consumers say having limited help when something goes wrong is a challenge. Knowledge databases with support articles and video tutorials can be helpful, especially for frequently asked questions and straightforward answers. Even chatbots and other conversational AI assistants can be useful for more simple inquiries. But these can’t solve everything, at least not in ways that are efficient for consumers. 

There are plenty of detailed scenarios that require a lot of back-and-forth problem-solving. Therefore, businesses must provide obvious and easy ways to contact an actual person across all touchpoints. It is also crucial that these employees are still extensively trained so they’re equipped with the knowledge they need to assist. Plus, they must be willing to pick up the phone, if necessary, instead of hiding in their inboxes.  

For these reasons and more, in the deadline-driven print production industry, direct contact between buyer and seller is preferred. Each project comes with its own complex set of details, making it essential for buyers to ask many questions regarding specifications and the final product application. These conversations also provide sellers with the opportunity to manage delivery and distribution expectations. Face-to-face and phone conversations remain the most efficient ways to draw out the necessary information, which contributes to the successful execution of the print project.

To achieve the best outcome for the future of our industry, others, and customer service in general, people must work in unison with their technologies. There is no doubt that contactless experiences can increase speed, efficiency, and user-friendliness during many routine tasks. But just because they work in numerous situations doesn’t mean they apply to all. One of the best parts of being a human is connecting with others. Let’s not lose this in the race to do everything faster and cheaper than our competitors. 

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