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As I rang in my birthday a couple weeks ago, the CRM-churned emails and text messages began rolling in. One by one my inbox and phone were flooded with birthday wishes from my doctor, car dealerships,  investment houses and others I do personal business with.

Do I appreciate the sentiment? Of course! However, I’d be lying if I said that the “Happy Birthdays” surrounded my flickering candled animations felt flat and mechanical. And it’s not just from business-related sources. Even the e-card from my own mother seemed to lack that warm and fuzziness that comes with opening a handwritten birthday card with a perfectly placed stamp.

However, the issue here really is not the technology-driven wishes versus the handwritten ones. It’s about the lack of personalization. Without that personal connection, how can you possibly forge a relationship…right?

In the midst of pondering this challenge, my cell phone rang and my wife answered it. It was Dave from Volkswagen of Naples, FL calling to wish me a happy birthday. As a matter of fact, he has called every year for the last three years on my birthday. The birthday wishes are peppered with questions about the weather in Chicago, what I’m doing for my birthday, is everything okay with the car I had bought for my wife, when are we back in Florida for season. He asks all the right questions to maintain and further our personal connection. And you know what? He still used a CRM system to even remember my birthday and prompt the call,  but where he changes the game is by adding personalization. In addition to the conversation with me, he also took the time to have a conversation with my wife to alleviate her concerns about a recent recall, assuring her that it did not impact her beloved Beetle convertible.

Now, I know you must be thinking, ‘well of course you have a personal relationship with him because you bought a car from him after sitting in painful and obligatory negotiations and mounds of paperwork’. That’s not accurate. I actually bought the car online from the dealership and we only met when I picked up the keys. However, he has made a point to contact me over the years, and every touch point  is packed with personal moments that have actually built the relationship that was not established during the sales process. I essentially avoided everything I hate about purchasing a car but I still got the personal experience necessary to feel like a valued customer.

This is one of many experiences that reinforces for me that it’s not technology that’s killing the customer experience, it can actually enhance it. You see, in the case of the car purchase, the drudgery of the face-to-face purchasing experience was eliminated, along with any potentially negative sentiment I might have had, and the subsequent interactions I have had with my VW representative have all been to support the purchase that I made online.

And it’s not just the big purchases where there is a chance to build relationships that transition from online to personal. Every Saturday morning, after a long bike ride, I place an order through my Starbucks app to get my wife, Angela, her London Fog Latte, extra hot, no foam, with coconut milk.

From there, this is how it usually goes as I walk into Starbucks in full biking gear.

“Angela?”, yells the barista.

“That’s me!”, I say

“Where did you ride today?”

When I tell him, he keeps the conversation going, telling me he loves the food in that neighborhood and makes some suggestions. On my next visit, I tell him I went back and tried the carnitas. He showed genuine excitement and interest asking if I went to Don Pepe’s because it’s his favorite!

What happens between us during every trip to pick up my wife’s coffee, is what I call a microconnection. These 20-second interactions, all based on a personal connection formed because the barista was able to make a connection with me based on me wearing a bike helmet. He picked up on a simple cue and made it into a personal connection, which over time feels like a relationship….a relationship built on a series of 20-second interactions.

Not only does online technology NOT hamper the personal connections necessary to good customer experience, but it can actually help you bypass the transaction and focus on the relationship!

Don’t let the influx of kiosks and self-service checkouts make you feel like you can’t personalize the customer experience. Instead, let it strengthen the customer’s independence and then use the extra time with them to work on building your relationship.

Rest assured that technology isn’t the culprit to failed customer experiences. In reality, it gives you more time and opportunity to forge the relationship, so USE IT!

November 21, 2016


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