February 10, 2016

Is technology helping or hurting our ability to build customer relationships?

By Kathryn Will

Today, real-time alerts ping when a prospect visits a business’ website. If someone mentions a company or brand on social media, the subject of the mention is immediately notified and can respond within minutes.

Businesses have more tech tools than ever before to connect with prospects and respond to customers, but they can’t forget about making real connections. They can’t forget about the human element.

The ability to be in constant contact, which technology advances have enabled, was lauded at first, but now everyone is trying to think of new ways to “unplug” and “disconnect.”

In a survey of employers by Robert Half Management Resources, only 6 percent of respondents said it was OK for employees to check messages during meetings. Even if those incoming messages are from clients, the employee could be missing out on key points of the meeting in progress. While the employee is sending a return email to a prospect, she could be tuning out important company news, project updates, or presentation of a new sales strategy she is expected to deploy. What’s worse, the customer waiting 30 minutes for a reply, or any result of the employee being distracted in the company meeting?

Responsiveness is always positive, but the key to great customer service is always people.

In her TED Talk, “Connected, but alone?” Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of Alone Together, says people tell her they would rather text than talk.

“…People get so used to being short-changed out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they’ve become almost willing to dispense with people altogether,” she says.

But people—not the Facebook page or email—make a business.

The solution to this communications muddle is to use technology in a way that fosters relationships. For example, responding personally, instead of using automated “robot-sounding” messages, is a great way for businesses to humanize social media. VIPOrbit, a contact manager app for professionals, is promoted as “better than photographic memory” and flags contacts with reminders to stay in touch. And while email is fine, an actual phone call is almost revered like a handwritten letter nowadays.

As technology continues to make it easier to stay in touch, people have to think harder about how they communicate—at work and personally—and carve out time to make real connections.