What do you prefer? Dealing with a cold, faceless corporate entity that treats you like a robot, or engaging with a friendly individual? Because people buy from other people, not businesses, we predict that most of our readers would take the second choice, which means you actually enjoy the everyday exchange of money for goods and services. The personal touch really does matter, and as a small business you're tailor-made to take advantage of it. Here's what you need to know.
The bigger the business, the harder it is to deliver real customised experiences
Banks, insurance companies, utilities firms, they all claim to provide a personal service. But it isn't really that personal. Many big businesses have no real idea how to connect with their audiences in a meaningful way, a way that proves the customer isn't just another record on a database.
Automated software often does the trick, and while it's very common it is far from ideal. If you've ever used automated customer service systems you'll know how deeply unsatisfactory they are, even if they do get things done.
In a world where loyalty and advocacy are vital to business, ignoring the personal touch can land your brand in hot water. To stand out from the competition, keep punters coming back for more and grow a genuinely loyal customer base, you need to do better than that. Adding a human element and keeping it personal can pay off in so many ways. When people feel a personal connection with your business it's easier for you to make special offers and promotions, ask important questions, cross-sell and up-sell, deal with complaints, all that vital everyday stuff you encounter along the sales journey.
It's a digital transformation thing
The digital landscape has opened up all sorts of new contact opportunities through technology, and digital tech has dominated most of the customer experience conversation in the past couple of years. But the digital world's potential is limited. It makes sense to be realistic about it rather than treating it as a wholly viable alternative to being human.
The customer experience is an increasingly important marketing factor, and businesses are hell bent on grabbing that elusive customer experience competitive advantage. But they don't always prioritise people-power. Brands are busy improving self-service, for example supermarket self service tills. They're leveraging new technologies. They're focusing on mobile and small screens. They're creating vast collections of automated email responses to cover every eventuality.
It isn't a generational thing – We all value personal attention
Does your target audience include the Millennial generation? If so, you'd be forgiven for believing they only operate via social media and hate using the phone. That's what the hype says, but in fact every generation values personal interaction over software and systems, especially when there's an emergency or self-service is impossible. When you place technical barriers in front of people so they can't access a human being for help, you isolate and disempower them, and they quickly fall out of love with your brand.
Even the youngest customers like to have support in the form of a personal touch. Having a real-time conversation with another human being goes a long way towards engaging a customer. People, unlike machines, can unerringly, intuitively solve people's needs and, again unlike a machine or software, can also anticipate people's worries. A well-trained team will handle interactions in a way that actually adds value to the customer experience, rather than just adding frustration and impotence to the mix!
Don't be scared of angry people – Complaints drive improvement
Maybe you're reluctant to talk to your customers in person because you're worried about how to handle complaints. You can take heart from the fact that a complaint resolved makes a person much more loyal than if they'd never had a complaint in the first place. There's more – hidden inside every complaint is a glittering opportunity to change things for the better, which is why wise business owners value complaints over any other form of feedback.
Loyalty is fragile in a business sense
Customer loyalty is a fragile thing. Humans are genuinely loyal to friends, family, and to a degree to our colleagues. But we're only a little bit loyal to the businesses we buy from. If that business annoys us, rips us off or treats us badly, we move with scary speed from tolerant and loyal to intolerant and furious... and we vote with our feet. One of the best ways to prevent lost loyalty is to be human, to deliver top class, genuinely personal customer service.
Great customer experiences drive growth
We live in the digital era, and there's no getting away from it. In most ways it's a magical, marvellous thing, an innovation that has changed the face of business for the better, forever. But there's no substitute for human interaction, especially when something goes wrong. If you want to achieve success in the long term and out-compete the competition, communicating with your customers on a human level whenever it matters will put you in good stead.