Saturday, March 26, 2016

Is Technology Ruining Our Customer Relationships?

I'm taking a step away from my usual "how-to" article this week to ponder a topic which was brought to my attention recently: Is technology hurting the relationships small business owners have with their clients/customers? It may sound counter-intuitive being that we can get "in touch" with someone via about 20 different methods now. "Text me", "PM me", "email me", "hit me up on Twitter"; whatever happened to "let's grab a coffee sometime"? Has the internet and social media actually hurt the way we connect with our customers? 

And before I go any further, I am speaking as a small B2B business owner. Not everyone has the need or opportunity to meet with their clients for coffee or lunch. If you sell erasers for a living, you probably don't care about how your customers are doing other than if they are making a lot of mistakes and they need your product! This also isn't written for the multi-national Fortune 100 sales rep. I'm talking about the little guy who covets each and every customer he (or she!) has.

Now don't get me wrong - I make my living being on the computer and I appreciate all of the wonderful technology which exists today (My phone usually isn't more than three feet from me at any time!). What I'm talking about is allowing our relationships with our customers to be "digital" and taking the humanity out of it.

Social Media experts will tell you that you need to talk to your audience as if they are sitting at the table with you. So why not sit at the table with them! Oh, right - it's inconvenient, time consuming, and you only reach one person at a time. As a B2B small business owner, there is nothing more important to me than connecting with my clients on a human level first, a business level second. That is how you build a trusting relationship.

I recently met with a long-time client of mine for coffee. We spent the better part of 3 hours talking about everything from his web site, a new idea he has for a business, our kids, our wives, how the food was at a local restaurant - you get the idea. The fact of the matter is that we both engaged on a human level - not just about business. And he knew that I wasn't there strictly to get money out of him.

Bottom line is that I've done this countless times with him and he has spent thousands of dollars with me. I know that when he is ready for his new business, I'm the guy who is going to be sitting down with him (over coffee!) and hammering out all of the details for his new site and literature.

Another example is a client of mine whom I've never met face to face. I know - if you've never met her, how does this fit in with the "lose the technology crap"? It's not about the technology - it's about putting the technology in its place.

This client and I communicate very regularly via email, but I still keep a human touch without getting too personal. She recently asked for my opinion on which laptops to get her college-age kids for Christmas because she knows I'm a computer nerd (said with the utmost respect). Why? Because she trusted my opinion. Did I make any money on the time I spent looking at the specs she sent me or the time it took me to email her back - not a penny. What I did make was a connection to her beyond her business and a stronger bond with my client. That is worth every second I spent on helping her.

Now don't get me wrong. I just completed my Social Media Marketing Specialization through Northwestern University (shout out to Prof. Randy Hlavac! Awesome class!) and I use every technology at my disposal which can help my business. Social media and the internet allows businesses to reach out to customers they never dreamed they could have. My point is if you have the need and ability to make contact with your customers, don't let the ease and convenience of technology make it impersonal. You will gain a much stronger bond with a face to face (especially over great coffee!).

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