The Human Touch: how your digital interfaces can help users feel connected

A look at how automated digital experiences can still provide a vital human connection.

It's World Usability Day on Thurs 12 Nov 2020 and this year's theme is 'human-centered AI'. To celebrate, we're taking a look at how automated digital experiences can still provide a necessary human connection.

We’re all going through something right now. For many people, this is the most isolated they’ve ever been and your service may offer them the kind of human contact they’re looking for, but only if you get it right.

As contradictory as it sounds, online services are among the most intimate industries around. Users go to the shops to buy things from people they won’t ever see again. When they’re online however, they’re in their own home, using their own devices, accessing sites and apps they’ll use over and over again.

Your interface can provide the kind of door-to-door service that you can’t get from physical purchases, so it’s easy for customers to lean on that experience for the human contact they may be craving at the moment. Fail to provide a friendly, transparent and efficient service, and you’ll leave them feeling even more negative.

However, there are some simple steps that you can take to make sure your users complete their experience feeling a bit less alone:

Artificial humans

It’s yet another contradiction, but chatbots can be a fantastic way to make your user experience come alive. Of course, having a real person communicating with your users about a product will provide that human contact, but somewhat defeats the purpose of having a website at all.

A good chatbot however, is indistinguishable from talking to a real person, certainly given that all contact centers will provide detailed scripts to their staff to maintain consistency in the user experience. All a chatbot needs to do is automate that script and it can easily fill those shoes.

It’s not difficult to do either. Most chatbot software will allow you to write out a workflow script that’s not far from what you’re asking your contact center staff to run through.

You likely won’t even need too much development work. Just be sure to give your chatbot a human name, a friendly little icon that looks like a face and keep your tone cheerful and friendly in your script.

Poncho the weather cat is a popular example of a positive chatbot experience. Your chatbot doesn’t have to be this ‘cute’, especially if it doesn’t fit your brand, but friendliness is key.

Human tone

Speaking of tone, apply this to all your content. You only have to listen to one government speech right now to understand how off-putting it can be when someone is speaking to you in a formal tone, filling their message with jargon and avoiding allocating blame by using the passive voice throughout.

There’s a quote that’s often wrongly attributed to Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. No-one’s really sure who first said it, but it’s absolutely true. Speaking in riddles just makes you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

As an example, which of these would you prefer?

A) Dear valued customer

Our Customer Accessibility and Interaction team have been made aware of an incident that occurred that may have adversely affected your purchase transaction with our site. An SSL communication error occurred that caused a failed transmission within our server. We have since contacted the involved parties to rectify the issue and you will now be able to proceed with your involvement in our web processes as expected.

B) Hi Mr Smith

We’re really sorry, but we messed up. We didn’t pick up your order when we should have. Thankfully, we caught our mistake and your order is on its way to you now! We really hope this hasn’t caused you any trouble. Have a great weekend!

Helping hand

We’re all offering online services here, especially right now, but one tough lesson I’ve had to learn as a UX specialist is that some people just don’t want to play when it comes to technology.

As a tech-savvy introvert, I prefer online shopping and favour the self-service checkouts at the supermarket. However, there will always be people who have to touch and meet and chat.

It isn’t just the older generation either. There are plenty of Gen Zers who just need to talk to someone about their purchase; who just have to hold their new phone before they commit to buying it.

There are tremendous resource savings to moving everything online, but you will never be able to get to a place where 100% of your customers will accept a completely automated process.

For those people, you still have to give them the option to access that contact or they will never be happy with your service, and they’ll especially be looking for it now.

Being useful

So you have a super-helpful chatbot; a friendly, cheerful site; and a back-up person to talk things through with when needed – your user journey is still going to suck if it’s broken.

Your users are under stress and feeling lonely and sad right now. If they’re buying something to cheer them up or trying to complete a chore to make them feel normal, it can be really distressing when things go wrong.

Our job is to make these processes as simple and effective as possible at the best of times, but when your users are panicked and isolated, they will really need your service to “just work” as Steve Jobs put it.

Offering users a service that really helps them right now, and making access to that service genuinely pleasant, will support people when they need it most, and they’ll remember that experience when all of this is long over.

For more information on how to get involved in World Usability Day, and for a list of related events taking place from Nov 12th, visit

UX test your Covid-19 messaging and content with our free survey template