How to build trusted relationships through digital engagement

Technology is evolving faster than ever, but a blend of art and science – as well as great online and offline interactions – can help serve consumers well, according to our expert panel

EA – Ed Alford, chief technology officer, New Look 
FH – Faisal Hussain, chief technology officer and chief digital officer, Metro Bank 
LJ – Leigh Jones, senior business consultant (EMEA), Twilio 
DK – Daniel Kornitzer, chief business development officer, Paysafe Group

Given the pandemic and all that has happened over the past couple of years, why is it so important to engage customers digitally?

LJ: As a society, and as organisations, we’ve gone through a turbulent time over the last few years. So, the landscape has changed. Organisations have moved an awful lot faster on their digital strategy… now, we’re suddenly seeing them taking a step back, looking at their infrastructure and asking ‘how are customers engaging with us?’

DK: Digital engagement is important because the way consumers interact with merchants, with banks, with fintechs, has radically changed. The question is, ‘how do we elicit consumer loyalty when we only see them once a quarter?’ The answer is to create consumer loyalty by delivering value, solving a problem for the consumer and giving them back time. Customers are technology-agnostic – they only care about the benefits.

How can you ensure you’re engaging customers as effectively through online channels as you do via traditional channels?

FH: We call it ‘bricks and clicks,’ in terms of how we balance the two, because everybody knows that great customer service on the high street is face to face and it is about trust. For us, the hardest part is to offer a digital capability, but try and retain the high street customer service.

EA: To be the best omnichannel retailer, I think you’ve got to build the best digital customer experience. When I engage with anybody who’s buying our product, the thing they’re always saying is: make it easier. I would like to create the same experience for our customers if they go into our stores as when they’re online and in their own house. We’re testing fit analytics to allow customers to effectively create a [digital] changing room in their house.

How does digital engagement impact revenue and customer retention?

EA: People want to be part of your purpose and actually enjoy shopping with you, and that helps with lifetime value. The thing we’re doing next is to try and get our senior designers into the metaverse talking to customers at the beginning of the design process, so that we can use that as an engagement platform at that stage. So, by the time it gets to [the] autumn-winter [fashion season]… customers know what we’re bringing out and have been part of it.

FH: For us, the relationship is that we could be part of key life moments for people. There’s a big difference between someone coming in for an overdraft, versus getting their first mortgage. Whether digital can do that completely on its own is one of the puzzles I’ve got to solve, technology-wise.

According to Twilio research, 95% of companies say they are transparent about how they use data, but only 62% of customers agree. Why the disconnect?

LJ: [We also found that only] 52% of customers feel somewhat or very high trust with the companies they engage with, so that’s incredibly low. We found that [organisations] are not serving them personally. 

Fundamentally, human interactions and what consumers expect have not changed for hundreds of years. What has changed is the manner in which we’re engaging with them.  Digital offers so many new opportunities for engagement, but that needs to be personal to have that key moment.

DK: As technology providers, it behoves us to reassure consumers. There are examples where trust is a real game changer, [like] cashier-less stores such as Amazon Go. Say I picked [up] two chocolate bars in the store, but my bill comes in and shows three chocolate bars… they make it easy to just swipe on that item and say I’m challenging this. It’s important to make that user experience extremely pleasant and seamless.

The most important element is a human-centric approach

How can businesses build trust, particularly around data, through digital communication?

FH: The more digital we become, the more automated we become, the more in-cloud we become, we’re one step removed from where [customers’] data is sitting. So, I’d like to see something more, probably on the technology agenda, to be able to talk about the corporate responsibility [of keeping data safe].

LJ: It’s a personal contract as well between the consumer and the organisation. So, I may be more open to sharing more of my information with an organisation that I feel is trusted, but also delivers on that personalisation. So not just popping my name at the top of an email, but really understanding me as a person.

DK: If you build the world’s best weapons, you don’t have some students operating them, you need personnel that knows how to [use] them, and it’s the same with technology; you need pros.

Personalisation can provide great digital engagement, but companies often think they’re doing it better than they are. How can they get it right?

DK: Consumers used to have a very special relationship with mom-and-pop stores where you knew the owner. And with the rise of ecommerce giants, we’ve gained economies of scale, but we’ve lost that touch. AI has the potential to inject that level of personalisation, but the question is, ‘how do we achieve that without being intrusive?’ We need to focus on consumer preference and relevance.

EA: It’s not just a case of giving the AI on the data and then it auto generates [a communication], there are actually humans at the end of it, who sit down and talk through that customer experience. We add the art and the science before we then push things out.

FH: We’ve got to be relevant, otherwise we’d become annoying as organisations. And then there is the human overlay [to say], we are thinking about you. And then it is a conscious decision to market this to you at this point, because one: we think it’s relevant, and two: we think it’s useful for you. 

What are your hopes for the future of digital engagement?

LJ: The most important element is a human-centric approach. [For example,] we have our contact centre agents, they’re doing a terrific job [and it’s] incredibly challenging with the amount of people that are available at the moment. And we need to make sure that we serve them well, so they can serve our customers.

FH: Technology is evolving really, really fast. It’s getting evermore clever, evermore complex. So, we have a responsibility to keep serving the customers well. I would like to see more forums where technologists get to discuss the responsibilities that they’re now growing into.

EA: I want to build cool, fun experiences for our customers, and my hope for digital is that the feedback we get actually gets the customers and the organisation closer, so that you can always be responsive.

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