Today I came across a statistic that really shocked me!
By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human. (Source: Gartner Research)
Can you imagine? Actually, if you have a teenager, it’s easy; I know she uses it to speak into because I’ve heard her voice through my own phone when I call her… indisputable proof that she uses it to communicate with a real person (if indeed a teeneage girl’s mother is “real” in her world). But everything else is automated or filtered through that mobile phone.
This is the future. How do you feel about it? Is your business already catering to the customer’s preference for instant gratification? If you do, then you’re already using some sort of online automation tools (like email autoresponders) to get the job done.
My teenager carries her phone as if it’s oxygen, and speaks of rockstars as if they are her BFFs because she follows them on Facebook. Even though she’s never met Justin Bieber, she can tell me where he took some friends for dinner yesterday and provide commentary about his choice of restaurants. She has “real” (or potentially real) relationships with a thousand or more people and personalities! To think that just a generation ago teenagers were satisfied with mere hundreds.
We all may possibly mistake an automated voice for a real one within a few years; just look at the popularity of Siri, that speaking app who as of this moment has 14,082 friends on Facebook. Lately there are even worried murmurings that Siri could be the beginning of the end of search as we know it.
No more Google…Could that happen? What if people quit typing a long tail search altogether and just ask Siri? Are we going to fully automate even search queries in the next few years? (According to Media Post, “Siri pulls results from Yelp, Foursquare — and yes, even Google. This evolution will simply force SEOs to adopt a broader view of optimization.” So you can breathe easy.)
Maybe you’re not worried about getting positioned on Siri’s radar just yet, but think about the 85% of relationships that will occur without human contact in the future. Are your business relationships part of the 15% of people-centric businesses? Will your customers insist on speaking with a human even if they can more easily and efficiently interact on an automated level?
I’m betting that if a relationship CAN be automated, it will be. Today, as we move toward automation, even small businesses are ramping up their marketing and transactional messages through:
- email autoresponders
- personalized email campaigns
- event triggered marketing
- automated lead generation and follow-through
While debate continues about how “authentic,” even ethical these practices are, I still maintain that a well thought out automated system is nevertheless carefully crafted by a real human being based on his or her understanding of real human behavior. So what’s the problem? While I was born a bit ahead of the millenial generation, automation doesn’t offend me at all. In fact I appreciate automation that makes my life easier. The Internet is much too large to navigate without some recommendations based on past behaviors of myself and others. Who’d enjoy that, anyway? A new Internet every time you sat down to your laptop? No thanks!!
Back in 2000 or so, when Netflix first started tabulating reviews to enable suggestions for movies to its customers, most users enjoyed their Siskel and Ebert moment and reviewed enough movies to shave time off their browsing later on. Large companies like Netflix have been pioneers in utilizing automation that makes customer experience more enjoyable.
But what if you are a small company? Is it okay to automate? Or will it turn your customers off? You’ll have to decide when it’s appropriate and when you should craft a unique experience for one single customer.
Small businesses can utilize automation while still keeping a personal touch.
A short case study: Yesterday we sent an email for a client to his list of around 2500 people. We created links to automatically download a free report and many people clicked. We also received about 20 personal responses in reply to the email, which was cool actually, becuase many people had comments and congratulations for our customer. Due to the relatively small size of the list, and the importance of the message, we can easily justify responding personally to all 20 emails.
Since our customer is at the early stages of building his web business, we sent a short email to each reader who made a point of commenting to the email. In our customer’s case, two of the twenty responders were readers who were not able to open the links in the email — and a personal response to them is definitely warranted! No automated system can duplicate a helpful and friendly human word.
But there are instances when automation steps in and solves a communication breakdown:
I read today about a small biz owner who unexpectedly had to go into the hospital on a moment’s notice and stayed for two days. Upon realizing that he would be out of contact for 48 hours, he immediately loaded up his Twitter account with regular updates (via Buffer) to his followers and no one even knew he was incapacitated.
Now, let’s agree that people who are online a lot sometimes have an exaggerated perception of their customers’ and followers’ expectations of them. Let’s be realistic; many business colleagues and customers don’t even know you have a Twitter account!
A lot of small biz owners who find themselves in a similar situation can simply notify the appropriate people that they will be out of the office for a couple of days and leave an emergency contact. Or employ that simplest of automated email repsonses, the “temporarily out of office” message. (That’s called CYA and is a virtual requirement in the business world anymore.)
However, many successful automated marketing messages go much further! They are polite and friendly notifications which would require tedious manual duplication if done by you every time:
For example, If your customer requests a quote or other information from your company, send an automated email thanking him and promising to call back within 24 hours with a quote. Event-triggered email mesages quickly assure the customer that you got her online request while giving you the opportunity to wow your customer wtih your personal touch when you call. The best thing about autoresponders like these is not that they save you from extra work, although that’s awesome; but that it guarantees that your customer or prospect receives communication from you in a timely manner. Service-based businesses rely on the autoresponders to communicate efficiently and courteously.
Another simple way to automate your marketing messages is to email birthday greetings to your customers. Whether you set up your email service provider to send a bithday card on the actual day, or simply send a greeting sometime during the month; the birthday greeting is ridiculously easy to implement. Why wouldn’t business (that retains birthday info) want to remind customers how much they are appreciated?
Products and services that are cyclical or repeatable are also obvious choices for automated email reminders. Time to spring clean the windows? Replace filters? Trim hair? Clean the chimney? Set up notificationemails based on seasonal work, or after a period of time has passed since the last service. You’re busy customer will probably appreciate it.
Business is built on valued relationships with customers, and that concept will never truly go away. But all businesses can probably find some use for automation that actually strengthens relationships — even if you never get the opportunity to meet some of your customers face to face.
Imagine the wariness that some people had when ATMs became standard replacements for bank tellers. And I’m sure people were a little frieked out the first time they used a telephone to conduct business in the early 20th century!
“Managing relationships without talking to a human” doesn’t have to mean cold and unfriendly!
Business at its core provides something customers want and need in the way they prefer to receive it. Not all customers really need to feel a human connection; some would prefer to skip the hand-holding. Maybe in your business it isn’t practical or in sync with your company’s brand to deliver your products or services without that extra warm touch. But you may miss the chance to provide a factor of efficiency that some of your customers crave. Automation provides that!
Automation is based on the predicatability of human behavior and lowers the possiblity for misunderstanding if done well.
Granted, it can also remove that serendipitous connection and understanding between humans that make life worth living. These real connections are always the reason we seek out real people and create new businesses. So as we continue to grow and evolve, we’re always going to need human interaction. Let’s let a little bit of automation help us in business along the way.