Here are two kinds of statements I have heard from executives over the past few weeks:
“People think they can do business over text or email, but that will never work as well as interacting directly with someone, face to face.”
“People don’t want to have to deal with a person when they can just go online or go on an app and get what they want.”
These statements are clearly counter to each other. Which is right?
Both and neither.
These statements are extremes, and they each assume that the question revolves around human or digital communications, when the reality is that the opportunity in our marketplace is the way human and digital communications can be integrated.
Let’s start with the first statement, which focuses on the importance of direct, human contact when transacting business. Unless your business is something like Waze, Snapchat or Amazon, your digital interactions with customers aren’t as effective as the human interactions you have with customers. This isn’t surprising; humans have been having face-to-face conversations since we evolved our language skills about 100,000 years ago, and most people have only been using email for about twenty years and texting for about ten. We are wired to communicate through face-to-face dialogue, not through wires.
What about the second statement? Sure, there are many occasions where a digital customer interaction is more effective than an in-person interaction. Maybe the customer is in another place, maybe the customer doesn’t have time to allocate to an in-person interaction, or maybe your company doesn’t yet know the customer and can only reach her through a digital medium. Digital communications can be wonderful tools to advance customer relationships.
Here’s the right way to think about the interplay of human and digital customer interactions:
For most companies, human interactions should form the foundation of your relationship-building and preference-building activities with customers. However, now, unlike 50 years ago, you have access to a wonderful suite of digital communication tools with which to supplement your human customer interactions.
Imagine a metaphor where your relationship with a customer is like a building made of bricks. The face-to-face, human interactions you have with this customer are represented by those bricks, and form the most important part of the structure. The digital interactions that happen in between the human encounters act like the mortar that holds the large stones together.
Imagine a customer you meet with in-person one time each month. These face-to-face meetings are productive and effective, and form the most important relationship-building encounters you have with this customer. In between those meetings you exchange a number of emails and texts. While you would never imagine that these emails and texts would be as valuable as your actual conversations, they serve a valuable purpose as the mortar that strengthens the bonds between your in-person meetings.
At Yastrow and Company, the basis of our philosophy of customer communication is Brand Harmony, the principle that a customer’s impressions of your company are formed by how all interactions you have with that customer blend to tell one clear, compelling and integrated story.
Focus on how your human and digital communications can blend in Brand Harmony to communicate that story, and you take advantage of both our long history as a species who specializes in face-to-face communications, and our new, innovative capabilities to communicate with our customers through digital media. When you use the bricks and mortar together, your results will be stronger and longer lasting.