Do you offer a free consultation? Many businesses, from window installers to record producers to, you guessed it, Creative Solutions, offer a free session at no charge to see if our products and services might be a good fit. Now hands up if you do a free in-home consultation.
While this is quite common across certain trades, in the quest to make it faster and more convenient for customers to do business with us, we’ve started going to them in record numbers – even in non-traditional industries. Ever heard of mobile massage? We have. House calls are one thing for doctors, but paralegals? Hearing implant specialists? Nail salons? That grating sound is my feet getting buffed as I write this. Then there are those businesses that make it so their customers never have to meet with anyone, ever. This is especially true for serviced-based companies like IT solutions. Time was, the IT guy would be crawling around under your desk fiddling with wires. Now you complete a service ticket online and your issue is fixed via remote desktop. Ditto your new graphic designer, who can email you a new logo in a high-resolution format but never has time to discuss your vision on the phone – and the meat packer who can Purolator frozen gourmet steaks to your door so you never have to set foot in a butcher shop. Don’t get us wrong - it’s absolutely wonderful to take the hassle out of our customer interactions. But when we start taking the interactions themselves out, then we enter dangerous territory: yes, digital makes it easy for customers to get what they want, but we risk losing valuable opportunities to build bonds that transcend electronic communication. In pursuit of the quick transaction, we can lose the point – which is to enhance our customers’ lives. If this sounds a little kumbaya, consider that as a species, we obviously still love social interaction; Facebook isn’t the most popular social mobile app of all time for nothing. But do we only thrive on online contact that we initiate ourselves? If that were so, then why are Starbucks employees groomed above all else to be friendly, approachable, and initiate conversations? Why not make efficiency paramount as we order our morning coffee? Why not automate the entire transaction with a drive-through like so many other, arguably lower-end cafés? Because Starbucks’ success lies less in its product offerings than in its customer experience, and the friendly barista is a big part of that experience – calculated to inspire the feelings of warmth and connection that we crave. By 2020, it’s anticipated that customers will manage 85 percent of their transactions without talking to a human. That may be fine for rote transactions like simple banking, setting up an Enbridge account or ordering a pizza, but by automating everything, we risk drastically reducing the tiny interactions that add meaning to our days. Aja Frost, a Cal Poly student writing for Crunch Network, notes that increased efficiency doesn’t always make for increased happiness; she cites studies that show demonstrable improvements in happiness and sense of belonging just from the kind of short, spontaneous ‘micro-interactions’ we have with people we don’t know well. Like people we randomly run into in the elevator – or our customers, when we serve them at a retail store, collaborate with them on a service plan, or demonstrate our latest product. So how can entrepreneurs leverage the best of both worlds – the convenience and ease of a digital user experience, plus the warmth that comes from in-person interactions? Stay tuned.