Brands are betting on AI and digital communications to enhance their customer experience, and, in fact, experts predict 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human by next year. Yet, according to a recent survey commissioned by Invoca and conducted online by The Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults, consumers don’t seem to have completely bought into interacting with brands through digital-only touchpoints and instead still value human support.

The Results

The survey found that when a company only has automated communications – with no option for a human interaction – more than half of consumers (52%) feel frustrated and nearly one in five (18%) feel angry, with just 16% saying they enjoy that kind of experience with a brand. This drives home the point that offering consumers a way to have a conversation with your brand – whether that’s in person, on the phone, or via messaging – is vital to providing a good customer experience. Quick tip: Make sure your company’s phone number is displayed prominently throughout the website. 

Invoca Harris Poll Survey response when faced automated message

This is particularly acute when you look at the industry level: nearly half (49%) of consumers  would trust AI-generated advice for retail, 38% would trust AI-generated advice for hospitality, such as checking/comparing flight or hotel options or restaurant recommendations, while just 20% would trust AI-generated advice for healthcare and 19% for financial services. Applying AI to the retail experience makes sense because it’s already a fairly frictionless purchase process, and the price to pay if something were to go wrong is minimal. However, there’s clearly some consumer hesitation in industry verticals like financial services and healthcare when the stakes are likely higher. Quick tip: In person interactions are not always about transactions; they are incredibly important in building trust with your buyer. The more information you have about the customer before they call or visit your branch, the better experience you’ll be able to deliver.

Invoca Harris Poll Survey, percentage of people trust AI advice in retail, hospitality, healthcare, financial

From a generational standpoint, younger consumers are more likely to be trusting of AI generated advice (80% of 18-34 year olds v. 62% ages 35+) — especially when it comes to financial services and healthcare, with 22% (each) of 18-34 year olds trusting AI-generated advice for healthcare and finance compared to 10% (each) of 65+ year olds.  In contrast, a larger proportion of older adults (32% ages 65+) trust AI-generated advice when it’s for less high stakes activities like hospitality questions and recommendations. Quick tip: If you’re testing out new AI-powered technologies to interact with your customers, keep in mind that it might resonate with certain age groups and not others. Transition too quickly and you’ll leave people behind.

Invoca Harris Poll Survey, 22 percent 18 to 34 people trust AI advice and 10 percent 65 plus people trust AI advice in healthcare and finance

In considered purchase industries, it’s critical that brands don’t forget about the power of connecting with another human to problem-solve, build trust, or complete a purchase. For example, in healthcare, phone calls rule: 32% of consumers prefer to complete a transaction over the phone, compared to 30% who prefer in-person, 25% online, 6% via a brand’s mobile app and 5% via AI such as a chatbot. And surprisingly, for completing retail transactions, in-person is the preferred transaction method at 46%, compared to 35% preferring online. For completing home maintenance and improvement transactions, in-person tops the list at 39%, with phone calls and online close behind at 24% each. Unsurprisingly, for completing hospitality transactions, online is the favorite with 55% preferring this method, compared to just 16% preferring to transact in-person and 15% over the phone. Quick tip: From an industry standpoint, it’s paramount that healthcare marketers give patients the opportunity for human connection, and use that interaction to further personalize the patient experience. 

Invoca Harris Poll Survey phone call transaction preference report

When it comes to completing transactions via phone calls, women are more likely to prefer this method compared to men for healthcare (36% v. 28%), home maintenance/improvements (27% v. 20%) and hospitality (17% v. 12%). Quick tip: Pay attention to the behaviors and desires of your customers; talking is sometimes easier than typing.

Invoca Harris Poll Survey phone call transaction preference women men


“While AI has been a real game changer for the ‘back office’ of business — think martech tools and the ways to run businesses more efficiently —  this study suggests that it still lags on the front end of business — the consumer interactions.

As a likely result, many consumers strongly prefer human interaction to complete certain types of transactions. Every company needs to be aware of its customers’ preferences and prioritize them in their marketing strategy. While AI and automation can help with simple interactions or requests, the option to connect with a human should always be on the table for consumers, especially in industries like healthcare and financial services.”

Julia Stead, VP of Marketing, Invoca

Let’s bring this to life with a real example. University Hospitals, one of the top healthcare providers in the United States, receives over 400,000 inbound calls from patients per month. Making sure these patients are connected with the right doctors and facilities is an ongoing priority for the nonprofit organization. Noah Brooks, Manager of Analytics and Strategy at University Hospitals said, “In healthcare, a phone call, including one driven by a marketing campaign, isn’t just a phone call. We have a responsibility to make sure that when patients call, they get the information and care they need, right when they need it. That responsibility includes using better technology to create a better patient experience, which is why we implemented Invoca.” To read more about how University Hospitals uses AI to improve the phone call experience, click here

In Summary

Many brands today are striving to remove friction from the buying process by introducing automated, AI-powered experiences. While that might work for industries like retail and hospitality where the purchases are typically cheap, repeat, and not complex — it’s not gonna fly for healthcare and financial services. Brands in high consideration verticals like these need to give consumers a way to make that human connection — and then have the technology in place to personalize and improve the customer experience based on these conversations.

Survey Method: This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Invoca from May 9-13, 2019 among 2,048 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Laura Schierberl at lschierberl@invoca.com.


Laura Schierberl

Posted by Laura Schierberl

Laura Schierberl is director of content marketing and communications at Invoca. Prior to that she held positions at Oracle, Responsys and Hill & Knowlton where she honed her skills in all things PR, content and social media. Laura earned a B.A. in Spanish and Communications at Wake Forest University. Fun facts: she loves crime TV shows and her labrador has dabbled in modeling.

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