An editorial in the February 19, 2016, Philadelphia Business Journal by Editor-in-Chief, Craig Ey, got me thinking about whether ‘personal service’ is dead and replaced by ‘personalization’.
Mr. Ey, after touting the growth, success and amazing benefits of electronic communication, offered that “person-to-person contact can be a great strategic advantage, particularly at a time when many of your competitors are relying strictly on electronic pitches. I know they are because that’s how the vast majority of people try to establish or maintain a business relationship with me.” He further complimented someone who actually called him on a telephone to introduce his company.
For so many of us, ‘business relationship’ is really about ‘relationship’… getting to know each other, thinking about the business issues we deal with, considering whether we can actually help one another in some way.
Being in the business of serving clients with market-based information and marketing research for over 30 years, I’ve been so excited about the advances in electronic communications and the ease and speed of delivery of necessary information. Email allows us to quickly advise clients, to ask and answer questions at all times of the day, to assure the highest level of responsiveness clients deserve.
I’ve been reading recently about ‘personalization’ and getting confused as to what it means. I read a review of a study that said that “marketers looking to deliver exceptional customer experience will increasingly turn to personalization as the key driver to maximize customer value… that customers expect that the brands will understand who they are, what their habits are, what they want, etc.” [A shout-out to Altus Agency, the Marketing Minute; referencing Pegasystems “Predicting Routes to Revenue”]
I was hoping that this meant that organizations and their leaders are actually getting to know their customers and providing solutions based on who they are, what they value, what they think about. But, I think I might have misunderstood the concept of personalization or maybe I’m a little jaundiced. How can brands understand us? Isn’t it the people working at/for “the brand” who have to understand their customers’ wants, needs, interests? Shouldn’t we be reaching out to and actually meeting these customers and learning more about them?
Electronic communication has given us at The Melior Group a significant and dynamic platform for introducing ideas, getting prospective and current clients to think about things that might matter, identifying trends and the implications of them for business. It has especially given me access to companies that I believe we can help with our services and those who may not be great fits (with both parties realizing this). I’ve also met thousands of people on LinkedIn and other social media who are doing amazing things.
But, what we’re missing is the emotional and physical nuances that make for a productive business relationship. How are people going to know we want to work for them and them us? Like Mr. Ey, I’m a believer in the handshake, look you in the eye, actually chat, maybe smile (but not necessary) – the “huge advantage” that human conversation and engagement can provide.
In a service business like we have – and even a product-focused business where prospective customers have to choose among many alternatives when purchasing – it is not enough to be able to connect. It is more about talking and engaging with customers, prospects, donors, colleagues, others with shared interests. I really believe that people today want to experience the “real you.” In that way, maybe we can actually “personalize” what we’re offering.
This takes me back to an ad I have long remembered… when I was talking to staff about why it’s not enough to rely on electronic communication… give a look and see how you feel about business relationships.