Does technology remove the need for the personal touch?

By Sam Fergusson

Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg
Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

Gone are the days where we rely solely on the personal touch to engage customers, clients and even colleagues.

The ability to access anyone, anytime, anywhere with mobile devices, utilising the myriad of social and business networking tools (Twitter, Facebook, email, text, Snapchat, Viber, WhatsApp, LinkedIn… the list goes on) has given people the freedom to access products and services without the need for face-to-face, human interaction. You can network, chat and sell at the push of a button without the need for a physical presence, whether it’s yourself in person or a bricks and mortar premises.

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.

Source: The Battle Is For The Customer Interface

The point here is that the use of today’s modern tech and connectivity has created a ‘business to customer’ (B2C) interaction, without the need for face to face contact. Patrick Frinault (Chief Customer Satisfaction and Quality Office at ATOS) explains that “while a demand for high quality and convenient service remains, the relationship between a business and its customers has evolved. The desire for a personal touch is changing; today’s customers want the freedom to do as much as possible for themselves – accessing any service or application, at all times and from any location.”

“But that personal touch is so important!” I hear you say…

In a lot of ways it is, so how do we incorporate  and maintain that personal touch into our highly accessible global network of friends, family, colleagues, and prospective clients? More often than not, the easiest and fastest way to do this is not going to be face to face. Technology is phasing this out gradually as it evolves, and these days it is more likely that contact is going to be made via web or mobile channels, and inbound sales/marketing funnels.

This poses a problem, whereby a lack of visibility to the customer (hiding behind the tech to do the work for you), results in businesses not being at the coalface of feedback and being able to understand first hand where their services and products can be improved. Some problems just can’t be sorted by automated telephone machines, web surveys or emails… they need to be solved in real time by a real person!

To be successful, I would say that companies need to use technology to help create a more personalised engagement, rather than rely on it to provide products and services for them.

Take, for example, Amazon, who use browser and purchase history from its customers to tailor online experiences, providing suggestions for products and advertising so that anything that a customer sees on screen is relevant, at least according to the data Amazon have at their disposal.

Twitter accounts are increasingly being used for near-instantaneous feedback on products or services, and a plethora of companies are using this to their advantage. I  had a personal experience of this with an insurance issue I had. It was resolved within 5 minutes after I had tweeted my issue, meaning I didnt have to spend 30 minutes listening to music waiting to speak to a customer services representative.

Also, specifically relating to recruitment, companies are using similar tools to target people on LinkedIn for specific/niche roles. 

Face to face interaction is always going to be more personal, but it’s not always convenient (for both parties). Personalising interactions for a customer, using data cleverly, is the best way to provide a personal touch whilst also maintaining the customers desire for speed and quality.

It’s about using technology to add value.

Rather than thinking the personal touch is being replaced, lets look at it as evolving via new ways of interaction to create convenient, personalised experiences.

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