Is Digital Marketing Killing Customer Service?


Is Digital Marketing Killing Customer Service?

Reaching our audience through online channels is fundamental in business today, but I still wonder, is digital marketing killing customer service?

I grew up (literally) behind the counter of a general store in regional NSW. It was the early 80’s when we first arrived from Sydney to the country and even for my eight year old self the culture shock was huge. People wanted to know our back story. The neighbourhood kids rode their push bikes to school, and the pace of things was undeniably relaxed.

For ten years our doors opened at 5 am and closed at 10:30 pm, seven days per week, 363 days per year.

There were only two days we ever closed. Good Friday (for a few hours in the middle of the day) and Christmas Day (again for just a few hours ). And every day for ten years, we had members of our local community intermingling with our personal lives.

At the time, I didn’t consider what we were doing to be customer service; it was just what we did.

We knew which customers arrived early in the morning. Looking dishevelled and sleep deprived, they picked up breakfast supplies they’d forgotten the night before. We also knew which customers would stroll through mid morning looking for company and conversation.

Our kitchen always had a pot of tea and some biscuits on the go. And the dividing line (swinging door actually) between the shop and our house seemed to blur the longer we stayed behind the counter.

The result of a decade watching these interactions made me acutely aware of reading and understanding the energy of customers and developing the ability to meet people where they were. Not a bad skill for a teenager to learn and it’s set me up to become a keen people watcher throughout my life.

At 18, when my family finally sold the general store, we moved into the cafe and late night take away business. I moved from High School to join the ‘real world’ of full time work, unsurprisingly in customer service.

The thing was in the 80s and 90s it wasn’t called customer service… it was, well, it was just your job.

In the 80’s and 90’s no one needed to spell out that you had to be nice to your customers or you needed to engage and interact with them.

I don’t remember ever attending any courses on dealing with customers or overcoming objections. We all just did what we were paid to do, talk to customers, help them find what they were looking for and then sell them the thing they wanted.

Somewhere around the mid-90s began the evolution of smaller specialised stores to large big box retailers. In fact, I was at the front line of this evolution. I was working with Gerry Harvey (Harvey Norman) at a time when Australia’s first ‘Super Store’ opened. It was a moment in time that fundamentally changed the way we perceive customer service.

All of a sudden, I was facilitating training to new retail sales recruits on ‘Customer Service 101’ and ‘Handling Difficult Customers’. The role of the “Customer Service Representative’ was born and we’ve been going downhill ever since.

Fast forward 20 years, and we’re looking at a very different world indeed.

The expectation of a client completing their research is now firmly on the shoulders of the consumer. We (the business owners) load them up with an almost never-ending availability of information on line. And then and we pat ourselves on the back for making it so easy to find what’s needed.

We give them videos, testimonials, blogs and podcasts. Similarly, we enroll them into our newsletters and sales funnels sending email after email of ‘valuable’ content. All the while convincing ourselves this is customer service. This has led me to begin asking the question, is digital marketing killing customer service?

For all our embracing of technology and digital marketing we’ve (mostly) forgotten one very important thing… people buy from people.

People connect with people and people (our customers) want to have a relationship with us, the business owner, not just with our ‘brand’.

I’m not quite sure when a conversation with our clients became such a chore. There is so much concern around our clients being ‘time poor’ that we feel pressured to make our interactions as brief and to the point as possible.

Is Digital Marketing Killing Customer Service?

I’d like to suggest you ‘flip the switch’ on this kind of thinking. No doubt digital marketing has added a level of depth to research and information that we would never have considered in the 80s or 90s. At the same time, it’s also caused a significant number of us to disengage from our clients in favour of a digital conversation.

I’m not saying stop your digital marketing, I’m saying look at your digital marketing as a support mechanism.

Start putting ‘you’ back in the centre of the conversation with your clients.

It doesn’t mean you need to become their ‘best mate’ calling them every day; it does mean that instead of sending that email (or text) maybe pick up the phone and have the conversation. Get your clients used to hearing your voice again. Get them to a point wh they aren’t wondering ‘why’ you called just that they’re happy you called.

I’m yet to find a client that isn’t ‘up for a chat’ if you take the time to connect with them. In doing so you gain much clearer information on where they’re actually at in their business. As well as where they are in their relationship with you. You’ll gain great insights into thing that are (and aren’t) working well. And, if something does hit the fan they are far more likely to want to resolve it with you because of the relationship.

At the end of the day customer service comes down to being human and willing to connect. Being willing to allow your clients through the ‘swinging door’ between your work and your personal life… even if it’s just a little.

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