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?

The Wellness Movement Goes Mainstream

Traditional Medicine Embraces Health and Wellness Photo: Utah.gov

I find the WIKIPEDIA entry for “Wellness” so curious. It reads: “Wellness (alternative medicine).Wellness is generally used to mean a healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being.” That seems a very fundamental idea–encompassing a person’s total health–and yet it’s branded as “alternative.” Makes one wonder what the alternative to a “healthy balance” is.

We live in abundant times medically, Western or otherwise, and it’s inarguable that technology has had a profound effect on consumers who are now able to access medical information of the traditional variety as well as within the wellness sphere with a few clicks of a keyboard or smartphone. Technology has made us more informed patients, and proactive in our preventative care. To think, just a few years ago, most people’s assessments of wellness came once a year at their physical! Now, we can track our progress through a variety of digital devices that count steps, monitor medication, and track sleep patterns, among other things. Everyone is looking for information, a holistic alternative, a leg up, a new experience, and sometimes a quick fix.

The medical profession, retail pharmacists, employers, educators and health advocates are responding in a variety of ways to empower consumers. One result is that CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) and Integrative Medicine (IM) have been making their way into major hospitals and teaching institutions since the early 2000s. While IM draws a very sharp distinction between itself and CAM these two camps embrace some of the same alternative modalities such as Yoga, acupuncture, meditation, massage therapies and herbal remedies, to name a few. IM makes the distinction of using only proven practices based in science.

Consumers are taking good health into their own hands with great enthusiasm, sometimes for better or worse. The good news is there is a plethora of choices for the adventurous or simply the health conscious. The internet is rife with bad information, pseudo-science, expensive supplements (how do you know what’s in them?), innumerable diets, and MoonDust, but along with the questionable, fun, interesting and informative pursuits are available as well to enrich our minds, bodies and spirits. The response across diverse industries indicates the mainstreaming of wellness.

The travel industry has responded with everything from wellness hotels and voluntourism, to yoga and walking tracks at airports. Spas abound, with locations as classic as Golden Door, or as exotic as Ananda In the Himalayas. Progressive consumers often drive the trends, and wellness is a new status symbol.

Technology and healthcare leaders have also capitalized on the wellness trend. In recent years at The International Consumer Electronics show (CES), the yearly extravaganza of everything new in drones, TVs, virtual reality headsets, robots and dozens of other concepts, an increasing amount of square footage has been devoted to the health and wellness sector. This includes not only companies like FitBit and Garmin, but UnitedHealthcare, a company vested in how the intersection of health and technology may empower people to take greater control of their everyday health. In 2017, UnitedHealth showcased mobile applications and health technology products and services meant to provide better tools for bring information to consumers across the platforms they’re becoming accustomed to.

On a more practical scale, some forward thinkers have given a boost to public wellness through policy or investment in healthful initiatives in the last decade. Our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, was a great proponent of healthy lifestyle for both children and adults. She brought much needed attention to childhood obesity, food labeling, exercise and more. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council has enacted one of the most progressive food policy in the nation, adopted by both the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where it’s becoming a model for the rest of the country. The goal is to build a Good Food system for all Los Angeles residents — where food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable. Another interesting initiative is an experiment devised by the tech investor Esther Dyson, called the Way to Wellville,wherein five communities around the country have committed to a multi-year, strategic, customized experiment to improve the health of their citizens.

The truth is, that no amount of organic food, nor taking a thousand more steps, aromatherapy, mindfulness, aspirin or acupuncture can guarantee longevity, but good choices can contribute to our quality of life.

What would it look like if good, healthy habits began early for everyone, and healthy food and lifestyle choices were status quo and available and affordable to all? To me, it looks like the world I want to live in.

Competing for Eyeballs – Rio Olympics Edition

While the world’s elite athletes are competing for medals in Rio de Janeiro, a battle for viewers is being waged by cable and broadcast networks, social media and streaming platforms.
One of the key properties Comcast gained with its 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal was the rights to air the Olympics games in the US.  And now Comcast, through its Xfinity cable subsidiary is leveraging new platforms and apps to engage subscribers with Olympics content. As cord-cutting increases, Comcast is looking to upgrade current subscribers as well as entice new users with exclusive Olympics content available only through their partnership with the USOC.  NBCUniversal now has an exhaustive schedule of Olympics viewing across NBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, USA, Bravo and more through the X1 application.


In a bid to reach cord-cutters and mobile users, Google has dispatched YouTube stars such as Liza Koshy, Brodie Smith, Ben Brown, Caeli, Chloe Morello and Felipe Castanhari to livestream parts of the games and special events in host city Rio. Google is leveraging content from these Creators into search, maps and mobile applications to increase engagement. YouTube is also offering subscribers an IOC channel to increase visibility beyond US-centric users.

Not to be left out of the mobile/streaming wars, Facebook and Instagram have partnered with NBC to create a Social Media Command Center with access to NBC commentators and behind-the-scenes video.

Early reports indicate that live viewership for the Olympics is down versus the 2012 London Games.  Some are faulting excessive commercial breaks and ongoing concerns about Rio’s preparedness for the games.  But with so many options, are viewers choosing to engage with the 2016 Olympic Games in other ways rather than just live TV?

Some thoughts for marketers:
*Are the increased numbers of platforms and channels to choose for Olympic content possibly confusing or overwhelming viewers?
*Which brands are best leveraging the variety of platforms in order to connect with target consumers?
*What is your favorite way to watch the Olympics?

We’ve Got Updates – Right Here!

Some updates on previous posts:

giftboxesAre eReaders going to be the “got-to-have-it” gadget for holiday gifting this year? Barnes & Noble has launched its own dedicated eReader, the Nook. They already offer an electronic book platform that can be used on PCs, iPods and other devices. The wars are escalating as Amazon has just introduced a free application designed to enable Kindle owners to read electronic books on their PCs. While Forrester Research reports that most bibiophiles are still looking for significant price drops (below $99) before they are willing to invest in an eReader device, will the increased number of electronic book platforms across existing and dedicated devices make the printed blockbuster a thing of the past?

lv2The Virtual Goods market is skyrocketing. US sales of virtual goods have doubled in just a single year and are expected to exceed $1 billion in 2009. And many consumers are indulging their recession- thwarted desire for luxury goods by spoiling their online alter-egos. Sales of fashion and accessories in the virtual universe Second Life account for 40% its the marketplace, as players outfit their avatars with the latest Gucci, Prada and Jimmy Choo gear that they are no longer able to afford in the real world.

And lastly, guess who’s joining the parade to Pop-up Stores? While it was played for laughs in the hit comedy “The 40-Year Old Virgin“, online auction leader eBay is planning to use temporary mobile locations to generate awareness and to familiarize shoppers with their web functionality. You saw it first… in the movies!