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Is the computer killing our customer relationships?

In our lifetime, there has been no technological advancement that’s made our business life more efficient than the computer. Our record-keeping is streamlined. Our access to knowledge is unparalleled. Our communication accelerated. Our responses to inquiries can be automated. We can even be “open” around the clock and don’t need an employee manning the counter of our 24/7 store.

But there’s also a problem, as I see it. The computer can become a help or a barrier to building the kind of relationships with our customers that can ensure the future of our dealerships.

Put another way: customer loyalty doesn’t come through cyberspace and we might be failing to recognize this.

That’s because we’ve become dependent on computers. Think about it: How many hours a day do you spend with the computer? Probably more than you realize. After all, how do we most often reach our customers today? We send emails, computerized newsletters, posts on Facebook, Tweets and so on. Likely, we spend far too much time parked in front of the screen instead of in front of the customers. In a very real way, the computer is a wall between us and our customers.

We talk a lot these days about how important it is to develop a personal relationship with our customers. Marketing experts often tell us the computer is very helpful in that. I don’t mean to imply it’s not.

However, when we become so computerized and automated in relating with our customers that we no longer seek voice-to-voice and face-to-face interactions, hasn’t the computer become a block?

If we don’t purpose to avoid it, the computer can trap us. Today, we handle the majority of product information and education, as well as a lot of the sales and service process, without actually talking to a human being. We think we’re building a personal relationship with our customers so we keep doing it but, in reality, the customers don’t feel any sense of relationship. Indeed, they might even feel disconnected.

How many times do we go through a day never seeing (face-to-face) or talking (phone) with customers?  If the honest answer is “quite often,” it’s time to push back from the desk and go talk. Long-standing customer loyalty is built on communication – interpersonal contact.

Making it a point to talk to customers should be a priority. For one thing, it lets them know you want a continuing relationship. For another, it shows you care about what they care about. And it’s the surefire way to determine with certainty that your dealership team is producing the results the customers want.

Don’t actually see your customers very often? No problem. Sending them an email has limited value, so how about giving them an occasional call? Some management experts recommend calling three to five customers a day simply to stay in touch and see if there’s anything you can be doing to make their boat or boating better.

And, for the very best customers, a periodic lunch can be a power move. Obviously, if your customers are around, such as at your marina, getting out on the docks when they are there and pressing the flesh will beat an email or a Tweet every time. Whenever possible, the “personal touch” should be job No. 1.


6 comments on “Is the computer killing our customer relationships?

  1. George

    Great article as always Norm — I really enjoy reading your insights.

    This morning I asked my son how does a company, that sells the exact same product(s) as another, differentiate itself from its competitor. He passed the quiz when he immediately said “great customer service.”

    “Social Media” is an oxymoron. It’s a tool that helps you broaden your reach and blast out your messaging, but what’s social about it? You have half a million people who “like” your product, but how many of those people have actually purchased it?

    Nothing will replace the trust (or if you’re unlucky, mis-trust) that is generated by face-to-face interaction. Companies that learn how to leverage their human capital will be the ones that succeed.

  2. Ancient Mariner

    You make some very good points. As an introverted person, however, I have to admit that in my customer role I love having a little separation. I am honestly sick and tired of walking into Home Depot or the hardware store and having eight people ask me if they can help me before I’ve even walked across the threshold. The worst is when I am obviously deep in thought, looking over my options, and somebody who has already asked me comes right up and asks me again, driving my thoughts right out of my head. Because I feel guilty asking for help later if I’ve already said no, I’ve started saying “not right now, but if I need help later, I will be sure to ask!” in a (I hope) cheery voice.

    There is a hardware store I frequent where the woman at the register talks to me each time as if she has never seen me before. This is a fairly new store and they don’t have a lot of customers, and I am literally in there twice a day sometimes. She totally creeps me out; her friendly concern is so obviously fake. Everyone else in that store recognizes me as a regular!

    These salespeople have been told to do this and I am sure it works for a lot of customers. It is a balancing act, though, to do it in such a way that you are not alienating the introverted chunk of your customer base.

  3. John

    It is not an ‘either or’ proposition. All these methods just make you more available to your customers, on their terms. It also helps you to advertise to more customers, to bring them in and make that personal connection.

    Blaming computers, would be the same as blaming a neon sign in your window for the facilities lack of interpersonal skills. All points of the equation need to stay top notch.

  4. jeff

    Good overall thoughts
    One comment stated by reader gives the
    Incorrect impression of social media. SM
    Is used to engage with the customer not just
    a one way message. Use SM to connect in
    Conversation, and exchanges. SM is a way
    To personally connect with one or many in a group
    dynic when you can’t be
    there in person.

  5. john ennis

    I don’t often agree with Norm but BULLESEYE BABY.. Nothing beats human contact. .Article well done.

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