Remember hand-written thank you notes?
Then they became xeroxed form letters.
And then mail-merged form letters.
And then Amazon order confirmations by email.
We tend to use new tools to do less. We try to save time and money at the same time, and end up depersonalizing and commodifying what we do.
A simple example: cost and speed pressure means that when you get your car serviced, it’s unlikely you’ll be greeted by the mechanic himself, wiping his hands on a greasy rag, telling you exactly what he did to your car. Instead, you’ll get a difficult to decipher printout.
Why not use the technology to give more?
The mechanic can have a simple digital voice recorder. As he works, he can describe each thing he’s testing and what he finds. You can then email the digital file to Iowa, India or Israel, have it typed up and beautifully formatted and waiting for the customer when he returns. How can that not be worth the $1.50 it would cost?
Or have your private school or summer camp record a 7 minute video on every student every month (that’s a seven minute a day commitment per teacher) and post them privately. Seven minutes is the equivalent of a three-page personal letter, with far less resistance on the part of the teacher.
A friend of mine is wrestling with this right now. It’s so so easy to hide behind technology, to use it as a shield, instead of as a clever tool to actually get you closer to the customers you depend on.
Another example: if you have high-value customers, you should never give them a mass Survey Monkey type survey. It’s dehumanizing and it sends exactly the wrong message. Instead, ask them for feedback by email or web form. A few easy toss up questions and then just ask whether they’d recommend you and why.
If you get 200 responses, you ought to care enough to read and reply yourself. If you get 2,000, go hire someone to digest them all and make it easy for you to see the trends.
Inertia is one reason that techniques like these aren’t done often, but the real reason is fear. We use technology to insulate us from our customers instead of bringing us closer.