I went into a bank yesterday. I mean a bank lobby. I know. It’s something that’s very unusual in these days of on-line banking, drive-thru tellers, debit cards, and ATM machines. But I needed to speak with a person. You see, I wanted to get my daughter a credit card, but she’s under 21. The on-line system kept rejecting my user ID and password, and the telephone option kept putting me on hold after transferring me to five different departments. So I got in the car, and drove a mile from my home to speak with a human. Upon walking into a rather empty lobby, an associate greeted us, and welcomed us to have a seat. After a friendly conversation about my daughter’s experience in college, he took down some information, secured a few signatures, and said I’d have the cards in a week. It was nice.
The experience made me think about how much I actually miss the personal touch in business. Recent advancements in convenience and technology have just about done away with the need for human interaction. As customers we are able to shop, select, and purchase merchandise from companies without ever dealing with a human being. Our dry cleaning can be delivered to our home or picked up through a window. Birthday and holiday presents are even sent via various websites that giftwrap and personalize a gift card. For most of the time, as a customer, this convenience is great. But from time to time, I find myself longing for the olden days of speaking with a human being who can actually solve a problem.
Business leaders today face an interesting dilemma. On one hand, to dismiss the expectations that customers have for websites, social media, and physical conveniences (such as drive-thru windows) is foolish. But over time, brands that engender the greatest customer loyalty are those that consistently deliver not only transactional excellence, but those that create a meaningful relationship between themselves and customers. This will never change. So here are some simple suggestions that leaders might think about as they examine how to balance the variables of convenience vs. a personal touch:
- Take a look at your website and see if there is an easy way for customers to contact you directly. Make sure that when they click on the “contact us” option that you actually provide a phone number or live chat opportunity for customers to converse with you in real time
- If customers are greeted by a recording when they call you, make it easy for them to talk with a human being. Minimize the time they’re put on hold – regardless of how great your music is. It’s aggravating. And try not to pass them around to more than one department when they call.
- Examine whether your company is actually using technology to get to know customers better. Are you tracking purchase decisions and recommending related items? Are you maintaining information about their personal preferences occasions that are special to them?
- Is your company allowing a customer to choose how he/she prefers to interact with you? If they don’t want a daily email touting your offers are you obliging? Companies that learn to tailor the level of technology “involvement” they have with customers will be rewarded.
- If a customer actually purchases something from you on line or over the phone, find a unique way to follow up personally. This is most important for loyal customers who expect even better treatment. Finding a way to provide a personal touch to your best customers is one of the most important, albeit difficult things to do.
As a customer, I enjoy the conveniences that technology provides. But my experience in the bank yesterday reminded me that business is, as it has always been, about relationships. The ability to initiate and hold a conversation, understand a customer’s needs, and strengthen bonds by staying connected are keys to building lasting relationships. Those who understand the need to keep the personal touch in the equation will always hold a key to loyalty.