We have a love-hate relationship with technology. It’s quite possibly the largest boon we’ve ever had as marketers in terms of making our lives so much better, easier, faster, and even cheaper. Unfortunately, it’s the “easier” and “cheaper” parts that distract us to a fault.
We look to automate.
We look to scale.
We look to simplify.
We look to reduce.
Unfortunately life itself is not simple. Relationships are not algorithms; they’re intricate bonds built and reinforced through empathy, consistency, and commitment. Trust is not automatic; it’s earned over time. Our customers are not one's and zero's; they’re humans just like us.
The fact is technology can be a tremendous catalyst that allows us to be better human beings when it comes to customer service. It’s not magic that the front-desk manager at the Four Seasons knows your name and the last time you came into one of their hotels; it’s just a database (and besides it’s on your credit card). Yet how many of us actually practice the lost art of referring to our customers by their given names?
When Target got trapped in a battle versus the blogosphere (I tell the story in the book, but in short, they communicated to a blogger who essentially they -- meaning bloggers -- and their readers were essentially non-important and not representative of their customer base), they indicated it was a lack of human resources (a scalability issue) that prevented them from doing better at outreach and response efforts between themselves, consumers, and their communities.
A marketing revolution is going on right now. Whereas production and media budgets are shrinking (think consumer-generated content and YouTube), investments in peer-to-peer communication, collaboration, connectivity, or creativity are on the rise. In the time it’s taken you to read this article, you could have established outposts or hubs on the key sharing or community platforms out there. That’s the easy part and the cheap part.
The hard part is rules of engagement, moderation, training, empowerment, contact management strategy, terms and conditions, and rules of engagement -- in other words “talent.”
During these critical times, where the scenario of a disgruntled employee taking out his or her relationship woes on their unsuspecting customer is not only happening in the stores themselves (for example, Domino’s) but moreover on the Web, in chat rooms, on social networks, and via personal blogs, the terms “response” and “responsiveness” are going to become a one-two punch or sucker punch depending on how decisively and comprehensively you act.
Who will you turn to? A 22-year-old “Twintern," an able-bodies call center based in India, or your silver-haired CEO?
The answer may be all of the above, and it also may be none of the above. Companies like Kayak, USAA, or Zappos, for example, hold everyone accountable, and from a cultural standpoint, this is a company-wide imperative. For others like Southwest (with one noticeable recent not-so-silent exception) or Go Daddy, a deep seated commitment to customer experience exists. Umpqua Bank, on the other hand, drew its inspiration (and training) from the likes of the Ritz Carlton, especially when it came down to empowering “front line” employees to be the active face of the brand.
Talent has always been the one differentiation between good and great companies. Now it has a critical purpose that lives wherever our customers live. Arguably and ultimately, it will define our brand, our reputation, and our continuity based on the extent to which we can harness its true potential and match it against our customers’ pain points, frustrations, and passions.
Earlier I referenced a marketing revolution, but perhaps I should have noted an all-out war. Who will win? Who will prevail? The rise of the machines or the rise of the humans?
For all our sakes, I hope it’s the latter.