On Cultivating Meaningful Connections With Customers or Why Technology Is The Path To The Dark Side

What does it take to build a connection between you and your customer?  Forget the talk, look at what businesses are actually doing.  What are they doing?  On what are the folks spending money and effort?

Are they not investing big sums of money on technology?  The answer, as lived, is that the way to build connection with your customers is through technology: marketing platforms, salesforce automation systems, customer service systems, CRM systems, e-commerce engines,  web content management systems, knowledge bases, chat functionality, CTI, mobile apps…..

Let’s stop and think.  Are we sure that technology helps build connection with our customers?  Could it be that the lack of technology causes operational issues that cause dissatisfaction yet the abundance of technology will not lead to that emotional connection?  If you are familiar with Herzberg’s dual factor theory then I am saying that technology is merely a hygiene factor.  Further, I ask you to consider that too much reliance / use of technology actually gets in the way of cultivating connection.

I say that in largish organisations technology (and the way of being that goes with it) drives out humanity – in particular the human touch.  We no longer talk to one another it is easier to send an email. We no longer write to one another, we send an email.  We don’t even write emails with the human touch. Instead the CRM system has ready made email templates which are automatically sent out – every customer receiving the same bland corporate communication.  All in the name of efficiency, consistency, and productivity.

 

I want to end this conversation by sharing a story with you. As I enjoy reading I tend to read widely. This means that I buy many books – many of them through Amazon.  When the book arrives I can immediately tell if it is from Amazon. Every package has the same look on the outside, and pretty much the same paperwork inside.  It is the kind of paperwork that a computer spits out.  Zero humanity: utterly forgettable.

Today, I received the book I had ordered from one of the Amazon sellers. From the neat handwriting on the envelope I could tell that it had been sent by a human being.  When I opened the package, I found myself delighted.  Why?  See for yourself:

human-all-too-human

That is all it took for me to find myself surprised, delighted, and thankful. The technology needed?  A pen and a sticky white label!

What was my response after experience that which I experienced in seeing this message?  I found myself wanting to learn more about the Seller (Birdy Hop) AND a strong desire to reciprocate by thanking the Seller. So I went to Amazon, found my order, and gave the seller a 5 star rating.

Is this significant?  Consider that I receive many emails from Amazon sellers chasing a positive review (from me) on Amazon.  For how many of these emails have I logged into Amazon and done as the seller asked?  None of them.

I say that within largish organisations too often technology is the path to the dark side.   If you are not already deeply smitten by technology then I ask you to consider that the human touch is essential for cultivating meaningful connection with your customers – at least those customers who are like me.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time….

Reflection on society and the state of the patient experience

How do we treat the old and vulnerable in our hospitals?

To me, the mark of any civilisation is how we as a society treat the vulnerable.  How we treat the vulnerable shows how much we genuinely care for people as human beings rather than economic entities.   And when it comes to vulnerability the old folks in hospital are about as vulnerable as you can get – trust me I have spent quite some time observing how these folks and they way they are treated.  Which is why I am not at all surprised by how badly these folks are treated in the UK.  Here as some highlights from a recent piece in the Guardian newspaper:

  • “Nearly half of hospitals are failing to provide good nutrition to elderly patients while 40% do not offer dignified care..”
  • “At Alexandra hospital staff told how they sometimes had to prescribe drinking water on medication charts to “ensure people get regular drinks”
  • “Inspectors found “meals served and taken to the bedside of people who were asleep or not sitting in the right position to enable them to eat their meal”
  • “At Barnsley hospital, one patient whose nutrition was supposed to be monitored ate only a single spoonful of ice cream for lunch before their tray was cleared”

This is what the Chief Executive of the Patients Association says in this article: “Why is it that patients have to be prescribed water? Water and food are not treatments, they are a basic human right. Helping patients with food and water is not a try-to-do, it is a fundamental part of essential care”.

Ask yourself: what kind of system delivers this outcome?  Is is simply a question of not enough staff on the ward?  Or is it more: a system in which the ‘human touch’ has been driven out and replaced with stuff like targets, tasks, forms, checklists, outsourcing to reduce costs….?  Whatever you decide, it is clear that the system is not designed to care for the patient and his/her wellbeing. It is a system in which there as so many players (each player doing his thing) that no single person has the complete picture of the patient nor the feeling of responsibility for the well-being of patients.  It is a system where the people at the top claim and possibly believe that they are treating the patient/the customer well.  Whilst the people at the coal face only make the targets (set by the people at the top) by not paying attention to the needs of the patients.   Does this remind you of many commercial organisations where so many functions/people touch the customer and yet no-one owns the customer experience nor is responsible for the health of the relationship?

Are we using technology to dehumanize (one another) rather than enhance the human touch?

“For all the promise of digital media to bring people together, I still believe that the most sincere, lasting powers of human connection come from looking directly into someone else’s eyes, with no screen in between” [Howard Schultz]

As a society we are in love with technology and we are under the illusion that information technologies can and should  replace the human touch.  This is not a harmless illusion – it has a real impact on our relationships with each other: between employees; between the people in the business and the customer; between the doctors and their patients… You might have read about the research (and real life horror stories) that show that human babies shrivel up, under develop and even die in the absence of human touch.  Is it any different for adults?

Abraham Verghese spells out the importance of human touch and ritual to the well-being of patients in the following video.  I urge you to watch it as the story that he shares sheds light on the human condition and provides lessons on how we treat one another.

What are the lessons for Customer Experience?

Just in case you did not watch the video here are some of Abraham Verghese’s words and my commentary on those words:

  • “The patient in the bed has almost become an icon for the real patient who is in the computer.  I have coined a term for that entity I call it the iPatient. The iPatient has getting wonderful care all across over America, the real patient often wonders where is everyone?  When are they going to come by and explain things to me?  Who is in charge?”   There is world of difference between the real customer and what the customer’s record in the marketing database – too many marketers and organisations confuse the two.
  • “There is a real disjunction between the patients perception and our own perceptions as physicians of the best medical care.”   We live out of our own worldview and we want to think well of ourselves so we almost always have biassed view on how well we are doing in terms of looking after our customers and the relationships we have with them.  Often we confuse convenience and the repeat transactions that it drives with customer loyalty founded on an enduring emotional bond.
  • “To often rounds look like this where discussion is taking place in a room far away from the patient.   The discussion is all about images on the computer, data, and the one critical piece missing is the patient.”  I witness many discussions about customers and/or the voice of the customer and yet I notice that no customers are present and neither is there voice.   How many have set-up a dedicated platform to allow customers a voiceHow many executives actually spend time with real customers and walking in the shoes of these customers?  Numbers, analytics, can never substitute for nor provide access to that which is fundamentally human and which comes alive through human touch.  If numbers is your thing and not people then go and run an investment fund not a business: a business is all about people. 

A final thought

Would it make any difference to human relationships and the way that we conduct business if we remembered and acted on the following insight:

“You never know what is going on in people’s lives when you serve them. For all you know it could be someone’s last day on earth.”  (Onward, p187)

Why you should not confuse ‘personalisation’ with ‘personal’

There is value in personalisation

By personalising content on websites you provide me with content that is likely to be relevent to me.  And that saves me time.  It tends to make me think that you have your act together.  That you are competent and possibly sophisticated in your use of data and technology.  Because of your personalisation, you make it that much more likely that I will purchase from you.

When you send me direct mail then it may or may not be personalised.  Simply putting my name on it does not constitute personalisation.  Doing that and taking my situation and/or my past behaviour into account when you talk to me in your direct mail does constitute personalisation.  And by personalising your direct mail to me it is that much more likely that I am going to read it.  Whether I act on it or not depends largely on your timing – did your personalised direct mail catch me when I have the need for what you are offering?

Why personalisation is not enough

The big issues with personalisation as it is practiced is that it addresses the rational / functional needs.  I’d argue that the kind of personalisation that I have described is a hygiene factor.  The thing about hygiene factors is that if they are present they do not build positive emotion, engagement or loyalty.  When hygiene factors are not present then they do build dissatisfaction.

Why the personal touch matters

Customers are people – human beings.  For most human beings there is nothing more nourishing than the personal touch.  The personal touch is always a human to human encounter.  It is one human being taking the time to acknowledge, validate and uplift another human being emotionally.  I can talk about this in many ways and sometimes an example is much more direct and useful.  Please take a  look at the image below.

I have an inquisitive mind and I read widely.  As a result I tend to buy quite a few books from Amazon and it’s partners.  Most of the time the books arrive and there is absolutely no emotional impact.  This time I am really touched.  Why?  Simply because of one personal sentence written by a fellow human being who works at RocketSurgery:

“Thanks for your order, hope you enjoy this excellent book and find it useful.  Best wishes. RocketSurgery Crew”

Now the interesting thing is that this sentence would not have had the same impact if it had been typed up.  It occurs as personal because it is handwritten and it lands as authentic – as heartfelt.

The net impact of this personal touch is that RocketSurgery is imprinted on my mind (and heart) and next time I am choosing between ANother or RocketSurgery, I know who will get my business.

Research validates the impact of the personal touch

I am not alone in being moved (influenced) by the personal touch.  The impact of the personal is described in the following book: “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”

You can download an extract of the book  and relevant secret (secret 10) by clicking on the following: Yes_Book_Extract

So what is the lesson we can take away from this?

Personalisation is necessary because it delivers on the functional (hygiene) need.  Yet it is not enough to build an emotional connection with your customers and grow loyalty.  To do that you have to be personal: leaving your customer feeling acknowledged and valued at an emotional level.