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Has Technology Gone Too Far? How to Balance Efficiency and Human Connection

Business technology today is full of wonderful timesaving tools that allow you to do a lot with little effort. However, these efficiencies shouldn't overpower the important interaction time with customers. Here's how to balance efficiency and the human connection in business today.

Technology is wonderful. Technology in business is even more wonderful. Think back to 15 years ago, before social media, before your accounting software took hundreds of hours of work off your plate, before you had order and payment processing tools, when everything you did was on paper.

Now fast-forward to today, when HR software streamlines employee onboarding, time tracking, payroll and performance management all in one place for employees located all over the world. CRM systems and project management workflows manage your sales pipeline and tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, while providing analytics on productivity and velocity at the click of a button. Most of these tools are super affordable, sometimes even free. Where's the downside?

We live in a time when you can purchase a vehicle with zero human interaction – which I think is great! Millions of consumers prefer to participate in online-only transactions, but there are a few caveats. What if something goes wrong? A study by Opinium found that 4 out of 5 consumers prefer human customer service interactions. What about consumers preparing to make a large purchase? Not only do consumers call a business when they're in the purchase phase of a buying cycle, but those phone calls are 10-15 times more likely to generate a sale than digital form submissions.

Raise your hand if you've been stuck in a virtual help dilemma in your time of need. You know, when you're going round and round in a bad phone menu system or chatting with a bot that just directs you to the help files you've already tried – or my personal favorite, when a company has no phone number on the website at all and doesn't respond to your emails. Is your hand in the air? I thought so. Too much technology, not enough humans. I'm all for working smarter, not harder, but at what cost?

Consumers are more impatient and less loyal to brands than ever. As consumers, we expect great service that is also quick, and if we don't get it, we switch to a brand that will provide it for us. But there's hope for businesses. Follow these three steps to ensure you're balancing the efficiency technology provides and human connection with your customer base.

1. Understand your customers and their expectations.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How well do you know your customers?

  • What age range do they fall in?

  • Do you receive frequent customer requests after hours?

  • Through a customer's lifespan, how many times will you interact with them on average?

  • How quick of a response do your customers expect? (Bear in mind that 64 percent of consumers expect responses in real time.)

All of these factors can help determine the areas in which you should offer human interaction in your business.

According to Salesforce, 60 percent of consumers say that personalized customer care influences their loyalty to a brand. Personalizing customer care could include the following:

  • Creating a customer loyalty reward program

  • Asking them for valuable feedback

  • Educating them or making recommendations

  • Using their name when communicating with them

2. Offer multichannel communication.

Digital forms, emails, phone calls, live chat and social media are all ways to interact with your customer base. In most scenarios, it's a best practice to offer all of the above; however, knowing your customers and their expectations gives you a better idea of where to focus.

If you have a younger customer base on average, you may get away with mostly digital channels of communication. However, if you offer live chat or any form of online messaging in real time, please have real people available or ditch the tool altogether. Chatting with bots is limiting and can potentially cause more frustration than if you didn't have a chat tool to start with. If, for example, you're a property manager and get calls at all times of day, you may need extra 24-hour phone support. If that's not an option, use your technology to clarify the phone hours upfront and let customers know when they'll hear back from a live human.

3. Train and reward your support staff accordingly.

The expectations your customers have for you should be in line with the expectations you set for your employees. That sounds simple, but how often are you in a hurry while Susie behind the desk is in no hurry at all? Establishing a customer support process, goals and rewards that align with your customers' expectations is everything. Consumers switch brands when they don't experience consistency, but when you exceed expectations, you've got a customer for life.

We all know that it's less expensive to retain customers than to acquire new ones, so why aren't we more available for our customers? It may be more convenient to have your customers and prospects fill out a form or email your business so you can follow up when you're available, but that's no way to conduct business in 2018. Technology is wonderful, but there should be a balance between efficiency and offering your customers a wow-worthy experience that sets you apart from your competitors. Know your audience, offer multichannel communication, and train and reward your staff accordingly – you'll be delighted with the results.

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