While calling a customer service line recently, I experienced an automation merry-go-round that is all too familiar. Sixteen “press ones” later, a pre-recorded voice told me what I already knew. Frustrated, I called back and hit “zero” for the operator. I waited… until one answered and transferred me to someone’s voicemail. A person was treating me like a computer – I was not impressed.
In the age of efficiency, automation is both a blessing and a curse. Knowing that what needs to be done can be done – on time and without misspellings – is reassuring. However, as we speed up with technology, business owners must always maintain the human touch or we’ll forfeit the personal relationships that keep business strong. The best businesses in a given industry are made up of people who, well, like people.
At MoldingBox, we try to emphasize giving the client more than a friend: We provide an advocate. The one-on-one interactions work well for everyone involved. Employees aren’t just cogs in a machine. Clients aren’t just the input end of an outcome process; they can choose to be part of the process itself. Conversations aren’t just rote interactions but actual conversations – a rare and wonderful experience in today’s impersonal world of computer-prompted questions.
1. Don’t be a used-car salesman.
By focusing on a company’s vision and direction, we can remove the pressure of a sales pitch and earn the position of business partner. A clearer path to understanding a client’s goals helps us provide our best solutions to their needs. You never know who your clients know, or who they will talk to about your business and services. Believe me, they talk a lot, more when they have a poor interaction with a company than when they have a great one. If everyone speaks highly about your company you will only get more clients. If everyone speaks poorly it will only drive clients away, and they will take potential ones with them.
2. Don’t forget your manners!
Basic manners are part of being personal. Always say please and thank you! Give the client a person to speak with. Day or night, commit to having a human being take the call (or return one promptly) and work to fulfill client needs. Clients will feel respected as individuals. They’re paying for a service, never just a product. They may happily provide further business, and potentially refer other new business, if they feel engaged.
3. Ask real questions.
Sincerity is a given, but it’s too important not to mention. “How are you?” isn’t rhetorical. It actually means, “How are you?” The answer will lead to better results. Asking real questions leads to real answers, which is valuable to both parties. In other words, listen. Even the simple act of remembering a nickname, a birthday, or specific preferences will let people know their exchanges aren’t perfunctory.
4. Include an authentic personal touch.
By observing how others incorporate the personal touch, we learn better how to implement it ourselves. Some vendors’ email signatures offer glimpses into who they are with humor, by listing their title, company—and their favorite ice cream. By crossing the bounds of business-like interactions, they show us who they are as people.
5. Follow up, like a real person.
Handwritten notes resonate so well, my company’s incorporated them into our own correspondence. Small things can have a big impact, so find a few ways to make people feel special.
The main point here is to always remember who pays the bills. Your clients are the lifeblood of your company, so do not ever think that you don’t “need” one. Not all clients are a match for you, but do remember that the ones you take on are writing the checks. Staying true to who you are as people helps others feel and respond similarly. This will build brand loyalty, it will build positive word of mouth, and it will simply feel better too. Keeping clients happy, rather than implementing computers and automation for customer service tactics, will provide what no device can: a personal touch.
Jordan Guernsey is the CEO of Molding Box, an innovative company that provides order distribution, shipping, print services, and CD/DVD duplication. Jordan started Molding Box in his mother’s basement and has grown the company into an Inc. 500 list member.