Does High Touch Still Play in a High Tech World?

Recently, my mother, who is in her eighties and not nearly a tech-nerd, insisted I download the Uber App for her phone against my protests and better judgment. Within a week, she found herself in the annoying predicament of having 3 Uber drivers arrive for the same call. She was at a loss about how to reverse the charges. Her query, “Where do I call for a refund?” I broke it to her that this was not an option which elicited a quizzical, frustrated reaction. Now, I’m agile and technologically savvy as are most of my friends, but who hasn’t had some sort of problem with a transportation app? Sometimes you just can’t register the correct pickup or destination address. Sometimes the app thinks you’re in Chicago when you’re standing in front of Madison Square Garden. After a few seconds of frustration, most of my peers can wait it out, or use an alternative without spending $20 for a ride they never take. The good news about these services, which often have obscure customer service options, is that some of them are rolling out programs for the growing population of elders, as well as disabled people, that include the option of calling a human being for a ride as opposed to manipulating a smart phone. In an effort to streamline, surge forward, pursue the cutting edge, all kinds of businesses can ignore the needs of many customers who still desire (and require) human contact.

This is a concern that cuts across demographics.

23% of millennials, for instance, who recently weighed in on acquiring a mortgage in a 2017 Borrower Insights Survey conducted by mortgage automation provider, Ellie Mae, named “more face-to-face interaction” as the second-greatest opportunity for improvement in the service. It makes sense that when your experience includes an emotionally charged, major purchase like a home, the human touch is still appreciated.

I’m amazed at the way the mail room of my building has changed in the past five years. Online shopping has officially exploded. Every single day now, there are a dozen or more packages of all sizes waiting for their owners to return home, with boxes from Zappos, Amazon, Etsy, Lands End, StitchFix and many more lining the floor. While those are all online shopping sites with reliable customer service, the online clothing retailer, StitchFix has gone the extra mile with a unique modelcombining data science and real human fashion stylists. Each StitchFix customer is assigned a professional wardrobe consultant. After the customer fills out a detailed questionnaire (and often hands over the link to their Pinterest profile) he or she can receive a box of 5 curated items on demand, or at regular intervals by subscription service. Returns are easy, and customers can personally interact with their stylist via brief messages. The data collected and analyzed through the profiles and questionnaires, as well as the returns the customer makes, are obviously critical to the plan. But in the end, a human analyzes the data, and picks the clothing to be sent to the customer.

There’s a lot of support for the combination of high touch and high tech. We haven’t reached the tipping point yet where people don’t need people. While many great companies rely on technology for a percentage of their customer services, they have fine-tuned the issues that can be resolved online, while others still reserve more complicated and urgent needs for a telephone with another human being at the end. They stay in step with their clients’ needs.

The need for the human touch extends not just to the customer. For all the talk of the practice of remote-working from the desert island of one’s choice, the growth of big tech hubs Silicon Valley and Silicon Roundabout in London happened because there are like-minded individuals huddling there, spurring creativity and competition among companies, having actual face-time with peers and employers, and social activities. And most importantly, many startup founders find that being in close proximity from day one is critical to getting the shop cranking. No matter that many startups have abandoned these areas for lower rents—new tech hubs pop up.

Companies as diverse as Paperless Post and The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts are examples of companies combining high touch and high tech to meet customers’ needs. Paperless Post, which was founded as an innovative and convenient way to send and track eye-catching invitations and announcements online, recently filled the need for actual paper versions of their products by launching “paper.” They offer good quality paper at a variety of price points, and naturally, they offer a designer to help with customers’ individual needs. Some occasions, and enough customers, apparently, still warrant the personal touch of receiving a special announcement by mail. The Four Seasons, conversely, has created an app which serves to enhance their guests’ experiences. For many of the app’s conveniences, there is a human on the other end, analyzing and responding to requests and needs.

That’s a great lesson from a company inarguably synonymous with top of the line, personal customer service. As The Four Seasons brand modernizes and optimizes for both clients and personnel, it continues to distinguish itself as one of the most desirable in the world through the synergy of high touch and high tech.

As our population ages and new hires become younger and more technically innovative, it’s wise to take care to address any gaps between high touch clients and full and easy access to products and services. Have you taken the time to consider just how comfortable your clients are with the pace of technological advances? When clients feel pushed towards high tech faster than they are willing or able to go it can be a matter of educating both sides. Some simple questions and solutions offered in a Hubspot article address the push-pull of these challenges.

No doubt, technology is here to stay! The key is to recognize that it is best to factor in a level of personal touch, along with the convenience that technology provides, to enhance the customer experience.

Questions to Consider

  1. What challenges have you discovered in efforts to integrate high tech and high touch as your business moves forward?
  2. What experiments or solutions have you found that yielded positive results for your company?

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