Humans vs Machines – What do you prefer?

5 February 2015 | 0 Comments | Industry Research, News, Press, Retail


Read the hype about social media and shiny new web services and you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone was conducting their entire life online. Thanks to technology, we are inundated with quicker, easier methods to carry out everyday tasks and buy things. Who needs to see or talk to anyone when you can do it in your pyjamas, any time night or day, at the click of a button?

But it turns out that this is not the case. In a survey we conducted in December 2014 to establish customer preferences between human and machine interaction, 62% of all respondents said that they preferred to purchase and conduct their daily tasks face-to-face.

“62% of all respondents said that they preferred to purchase and conduct their daily tasks face-to-face”

As many would expect, older people tend to prefer face-to-face contact. While true to form, 25-34 year-olds Gen Yers prefer interacting via machines and online. But the more surprising fact is that 55% of 18-24 year olds – the iGeneration – prefer real-world to virtual interaction as well.

Breakdown of findings by age group.

Breakdown of findings by age group.

In spite of growing up being the most tech savvy and constantly connected generation in human history, young people crave face-to-face contact just as much as the rest of us. While they may entertain themselves and each other via a multitude of apps and social media, when it comes to getting things done, even the iGeneration agrees that it’s better to handle their business in person.

And if you think this result is an anomaly, then think again. A global survey conducted by Millenial Branding in April 2014 about workplace environment and future employment, suggests much the same. Out of 1,005 16-20 year-olds or Gen Zers, 51% of respondents said they preferred in-person communications with managers to emailing (16%) or instant messaging (11%), and only 13% believed that technology enhances personal relationships with co-workers.

And it’s not just women who like human contact; the survey showed that in fact, men are slightly more inclined than women towards interacting with organisations face-to-face.

So what’s better about it? Respondents cited “personal touch, price, interaction, honesty, emotional intelligence, and being able to see the product” as the main factors for face-to-face, while those who preferred machine or online interactions cited practical reasons like “speed, ease and convenience”, followed by “a dislike of sales people” and “price”.


The latest uniform for Virgin Trains by JSDWhile “speed, ease and convenience” may work well for straightforward transactions, how many times have you got 80% of the way through an online purchasing process before realising that you need to provide an additional piece of information that you don’t have and ended up going to the shops instead? Life is generally more complicated than “click yes” or “click no”. It’s not easy to explain our requirements, predicaments and queries through a series of multiple choice options…more often than not, our lives default to “other”.

The reality is of course that most humans enjoy human interaction with a real person who is physically representing the brand/service, often in a uniform, whether that’s in a shop or on a plane. We want to look into a person’s eyes when they tell us things, to see if they are being genuine when they are recommending a product or service, to be courted like royalty as we part with our hard-earned cash, to have a meaningful dialogue with an “expert” about the pros and cons of what we are buying and to be sure that they are best suited to us and our lifestyles. How can a machine gauge that? How can a person know without seeing us? And how can we negotiate on price if we haven’t first built a relationship with the salesperson?

Professor Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, has carried out research that shows the effectiveness of facial expressions, gestures, and voice tone in communication over words.

This research has shown that 7% of a message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken, 38% of a message is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said), and 55% of a message is in our facial expressions. In other words, when we communicate with others, we tend to use our facials expressions to get our point across so it makes sense to conduct our daily affairs in person.

“Over 50% said that they prefer face-to-face interaction to explain their query or complaint better”

“Getting our point across” was also the main reason respondents gave when asked their reason for selecting their preferred method of communication when making an enquiry or a complaint. While email topped the list of preferred methods (34%), for those who chose face-to-face, over 50% said that it was “to explain their query or complaint better”.

This goes to show that customer service and smart presentation remains a vital part of the service industry today, both in corporate branding and in person. That is why huge brands place such an emphasis on customer facing and staff presentation. Take Eurostar for example, the design of their uniform is at the forefront of their campaign to generate a sense of brand trust. Therefore, when they asked us to design their latest uniform, one of the key parts of our brief was to ensure customers felt they could trust a member of staff wearing their uniform whilst maintaining style associated with high quality service. The results were impressive enough that the new uniform was the centre of a Eurostar publicity campaign at London St. Pancras station when they decorated the famous ‘Kissing Couple’ statue in their uniform.

This is just more evidence that companies who use corporate clothing and uniforms to enhance their brand image will have the edge over competitors by reinforcing professional and approachable imagery – and that’s where we can use our expertise to advise you!


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