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Can technology alone develop relationships?

Having worked for a company whose brand was based on cutting-edge technology it is sometimes a useful exercise to stop and remind ourselves what the limitations of technology are, particularly in a B2B environment. The temptation in today’s era of social media is to rely on messaging and allow technology to take the strain of communicating with customers: auto-responses, auto-reports, etc. Why talk to the customer if the “system” can do it just as well?

Hands-on customer service can’t be automated—it’s what differentiates you from your competitors, and it’s why you are successful at what you do. But with the temptation to rely on messaging and automatic responses, there’s always the chance that employees will fall into the trap of dismissing the human touch in customer experience in favor of tech, and it is a very common occurrence.

We need to remain aware of borders that we should not cross when communicating with customers. Establishing systems to communicate with customers does not allow us to develop the rapport and the empathy which will enable us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Customers have feelings that auto-generated responses cannot handle. These feelings and emotions will determine how our customers evaluate their relationship with us. Imagine a customer who has just suffered a critical breakdown on a major piece of equipment. The breakdown may affect their whole production schedule or, in some cases (e.g., power plants, desalination plants, hospital equipment, etc.) people's lives. The lack of a personal response that affects lives, may well cause customers to doubt the level of support that they are receiving. The last thing a customer needs in a case like this is to receive a canned response, thanking them for their interest and assuring a response within 5 working days!

Know which issues require the personal touch and which can be solved using automation. Know which cases require a customer to be reassured and to know that someone is looking after them and has taken ownership of their issue, and which issues can be solved using automation (automation does have its place!).

Get the prioritization right, identify your customers’ needs, and then work out how you can best meet those needs. Customer feedback will help you ascertain what your customers' needs are and which need to be prioritized. Assuming that you know what they want is dangerous. Listening to customers carefully is critical to getting this right.

And it's important to get this right quickly. Customers get frustrated with bots that don't answer the question they have, or that answer them incorrectly. If the customer is in a stressful situation, this frustration level is reached even quicker and becomes more intense. In such cases, not only do customers want a human response, but they need one. Their questions and concerns are urgent and demand an immediate solution or at least the feeling that someone has their back and is tackling the issue. Bots won’t do this.

Your customers want to know that you are there and ready to do the heavy lifting to resolve their issues. You need to show that you are.

As Tony Schwartz wrote in his New York Times blog “The more valued, appreciated, cared for and taken care of we feel, the more secure and trusting we become, the less preoccupied by fear, and the more likely we are to generate our highest value.”


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