It's not better tech that will save your company, it's the personal touch


June 12, 2019 / Tech / Greg Atkinson

With artificial intelligence set to take over 50% of the functions in a company, discussions often turn to what technology companies must invest in to compete. But for businesses of the future, superior technology is not the deciding factor for success. Perhaps counterintuitively, it is an investment in human capital which will set companies apart from competitors.

A company must understand its Why before thinking about its What and How. The Why of a company is its higher purpose – its reason for existing (apart from making a profit). The What of a business is the service or product it offers. And the How determines the way the company operates. As we noted before, a company’s Why is by far the most important factor in attracting staff and customers. This is why better technology is not the answer companies are looking for. Better tech means a company can produce better products, more quickly, and at lower costs. This improves the company’s What. It also complements the Agile processes that determine How a company runs day-to-day. But it is not the thing that helps a company achieve its Why. It’s also not something that sets a company apart from competitors, as the same technology will become widely available to anyone who can afford it. To really set itself apart, and deliver on its higher purpose, a company must do the following:

1) Take an inward-out approach

be the customer
Be the customer.

To deliver an outstanding product or service, companies must take an inward-out approach to customers. In other words, the company must first assess its product from the viewpoint of the consumer. It must have a genuine and empathetic understanding of the customer’s needs, and adapt its product to suit. This is in contrast to an outward-in approach, which leads companies to develop products that suit itself (products that are easier or cheaper to produce), that it must then push onto the consumer.

A good example of the inward-out approach is provided by Airbnb. The founders saw a need for good affordable accommodation when local hotels were either overbooked or overpriced. But instead of raising capital to open yet another hotel or hostel, they chose a different business model altogether. Recognising that conference attendees didn’t need all the bells and whistles of a standard hotel, and lacking the time and capital to build one anyway, the founders provided a product that answered customers’ needs better than any hotel or hostel could. Small wonder that in a little over a decade, the company has grown into a behemoth valued at over $25 billion.

An inward-out approach ensures that customers’ needs are met, even though it may initially be more tiresome or costly for the company. But it translates to vastly superior products (and profit) in the longer term.

2) Treat customer service as a product

good customer service
Remember, service is part of what your customers are buying.

A company that thinks it will beat the competition with its product alone is barking up the wrong tree. Product parity is fast becoming the norm, with consumers unable to really differentiate between companies. That’s why 88% of consumers will choose to patronise a company based on its personality, rather than its products. And 69% of consumers will switch brands to enjoy better customer service.

One example of better experience enticing customers away from the competition comes courtesy of the banking industry. A variety of personal and business loans, savings and investment products, and different cheque and credit accounts are offered by everyone. The difference in fees is usually minimal. So, what makes a consumer choose one bank over another? The answer is turns out, is convenience and customer service. Of the top 10 reasons customers choose banks, the top 4 spots relate to one or the other.

While parity in products is fast becoming unavoidable, consumers are equally quick to recognise and appreciate a better overall experience. That’s why customer service is a product in itself – it sells the company better than any product can.

3) Provide the personal touch

customer pain points
The little things might just be the cherry on top.

From self-checkout terminals at grocery stores to completely self-service fast food, many businesses are seeking to reduce or eliminate human interaction on their premises. And though this may seem the quicker, cheaper option, it also makes companies which provide the human touch stand out.

When consumers are used to fending for themselves, personal service will become a premium offering. While the majority of customers will be served by artificial intelligence, human employees will cater to the discerning few. For example, while Flippy the burger-grilling robot will undoubtedly undergo many upgrades, allowing it to produce ever more burgers at a faster rate, artisanal burgers will still enjoy a loyal following. Similarly, while many insurance and investment companies are looking into chatbots to replace human call centre agents, personal financial advisors will still play a crucial role in winning over the client’s trust initially, and providing attentive after sales service.        

New technology can replace many functions, but as we note in our blog ‘why profit is no longer purpose’, nothing can replace human connection. And before a customer will buy the product, it must first buy the seller. That’s why building and maintaining a relationship with clients through personalised service will be so important.

4) Have a likeable personality

Ensure your product, service, brand, team and content have bags of personality.

In addition to providing a better overall experience, customers will also be judging a company on its personality. The customer must find something appealing about the brand itself, and identify with it. This is especially important when the product or service the company offers isn’t an exciting thing in and of itself. In this case, personality must help to sell functionality.

American mattress brand Casper thoroughly understands this thinking. Rather than attempting to sway customers by focussing on mattress firmness or price, it has created a fun, witty personality that entertains customers during the day and promises a great sleep at night. Often lauded online for its sparkling humour, and winning marketing awards in the process, Casper’s Twitter account boasts over 100K followers. Quite a feat for a company whose product is decidedly unsexy. Casper’s great personality means customers log in for a chuckle, and keep the company top of mind when purchase time arrives.  

While commentators continue to bash on about the pros and cons of technology, companies that understand the value of interpersonal relationships will not need to worry, knowing full well that it’s not the former that determines success, but the latter. And for any company that wants to improve its relations with stakeholders, both internal and external – check out our blog titled’ 3 characteristics of the future-ready business’ to see why Kalido is the perfect tool to help you do so.