Mamie Adams always enjoyed going to a branch post office in her town because the postal employees there were friendly. She went there to buy stamps just before the holidays one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby.
"I know," said Mamie, "but the machine won't ask me about my arthritis."
The personal touch is no laughing matter. Many people shop and buy where they feel appreciated and comfortable.
I've been in sales for a long time, and - to me - the concept of personal touch hasn't changed. People buy from other people because of likeability, chemistry and people skills. That's why every speech I give I ask the question - What's the sweetest sound in the English language? It's the sound of your name on someone else's lips.
Ever wonder why servers in restaurants introduce themselves? It's the personal interaction that goes beyond delivering your food and mugging for a bigger tip. It's to make you feel comfortable and "leave a good taste in your mouth" for the establishment.
The personal touch works in all areas of business from attracting and retaining employees to engendering loyalty in your customer base.
I know the headmistress of a private school who makes it a practice to learn the names of each of the more than 1,000 kids attending her school. If they're new and she hasn't met them, she learns their names by studying their pictures. On the first day of school each year, she greets each student by name as they get off buses.
Imagine how reassuring it is to a frightened kindergartner, suddenly thrust into strange surroundings, to be recognized immediately by an adult who is in charge of his or her life. Or to the child's anxious parents. When they ask Junior how it went the first day, they discover that the headmistress of the school has taken a personal interest in their child.
In the 12 years this headmistress was at the school, enrollment more than doubled and the endowment increased sixfold. Not all the result of learning those names of course, but it certainly didn't hurt to have a headmistress who understood that her performance as a salesperson was as important as her role as an educator.
To quote Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail," one of my all-time favorite movies: "Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal."
I wrote a short lesson in my book "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive" that simply states: Once you attach your personality to a proposition, people start reacting to the personality and stop reacting to the proposition.
But is all that about to change?
Electronic self-service may be the wave of the future for many organizations, but lots of consumers are bucking the trend. The CRM Buyer website reports that researchers surveyed more than 24,000 consumers in 12 countries about customer interactions. Here's what they found:
- 80 percent prefer customer service from a human instead of an automated system.
- 83 percent say that interacting with a customer service rep is important on the phone or in a store.
- 68 percent believe they're more likely to get a better deal when negotiating in person instead of online.
- 18 percent said they would renew products or services because of good personal customer service, even if they were more expensive.
Are companies paying attention?
The British blog Fresh Tracks notes: "It's so much easier to fire off a text or an email instead of making an appointment in person, writing a carefully thought-out letter, or even picking up the phone. More of us are allowing technology to replace elements of our face-to-face relationships. In many instances it's hugely convenient and efficient to send someone a quick text and receive a reply in seconds."
But it's difficult to put nuance into electronic communication. You can program responses, direct customers to FAQ pages, promise that their messages will be returned within 24 hours or whatever. But never forget that the personal touch is already one step removed, and you must respond as promised or they are on to the next website.
When you can't be one-on-one with customers, make sure they know you are still there for them. Pay attention to your reviews, handle complaints immediately, deliver more than you promise. Keep your finger on the pulse.
Mackay's Moral: The personal touch means all hands on deck.