Every time I go to a trade show, I get a bad feeling. There are a thousand booths and each one is exhibiting “the most innovative technology” focusing on improving the customer experience. Early on, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and founder, brought an empty chair into his meetings so leadership teams were forced to think about the crucial, missing element who wasn’t in the room – the all-important customer. Companies are setting themselves up for failure unless they leave space at the table for humans, both the customer and the associates, and acknowledge the emotional and connective component that is mandatory in order to create that unique and memorable customer experience.
Too many technology companies are looking at the customer experience as a mechanical solution. The buying experience is not in a vacuum – there is a human element. At some point, like in the Wizard of Oz, the curtain will be pulled, and companies will quickly realize that focusing solely on technological improvements is not the most effective path to reach their goals of generating increased sales and profitability.
Companies in various industries seem to be chasing the next shiny object. I’m a strong believer in technology – there have been major advancements – when the technology enhances the customer experience and it’s coupled with a human component. Look at the major issue with e-commerce. To the average consumer, one site looks another. Basically, the customer’s eyes are focused on the product and the price. When a customer is looking a one site, another screen pops up with the similar product at a lower cost. Retailers are spinning their wheels trying to retain their customers and are spending a fortune acquiring new accounts. Too many e-commerce transactions are one and done. Very few companies make money when a customer doesn’t buy again.
My mantra is the strongest bond is between two people,not between a brand and a customer. I personally have switched from one brand to another in a flash. There are some exceptions, like Amazon and Apple, technology driven companies, and long-established household brands; Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Tide. But the typical company must develop an underlying strategy incorporating the human component with an ultimate goal of creating a one-to-one relationship between the customer and either one person at the company or a small team.
Consumer driven companies can learn from B2B enterprises. It would be foolish for any company selling to another business not to have a dedicated person or team handle new accounts. It would also be heresy not to have an established on-boarding system to ensure a smooth start with new customers. Companies that sell directly to consumers need to think of ways of establishing a closer one-to-one relationship. It isn’t that complicated. It could be a cashier at a grocery store, the concierge at a hotel, the teller at the bank, etc. Recently I heard a presentation from a major wireless company that plans to set up small customer service teams to handle accounts in the same geographic area. What a great idea! If you have wireless service and live in New Jersey, the representative will know about the Jersey Shore. Simple and direct, an automatic connection.
Another company I heard speak was Sweetwater Sound, one of the largest dealers in musical equipment for musicians, recording studios, schools, churches, concert sound companies and broadcasters. Sweetwater assigns a company representative to every new account and that person becomes their engineering representative for life. It works and makes good dollars and sense. The other day I had lunch with one of my nephews who started working for a production events company. I asked him if he ever heard about Sweetwater. His response, I have my own personal representative, Sam. Who wouldn’t love this company and its personalized service.
When someone pushes back and says there is no way to scale personalized service, I say go buy your latest technological toy for your company and see how long your competitive advantage might last. It will probably keep your company in a competitive mode measured in months, not years.
You can easily fill your empty chair at the table with a piece of technology. But, inviting a human to sit with you at the table with make customers more loyal and loyal customers are the best antidote to the next technology gadget in the room.
What do you think?