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Technology: Creating barriers or relationships?

Organizations in the same business either file for bankruptcy or continue growing by embracing customer preference changes caused by technology, or by ignoring them. A few, such as Timbuck2 and Barnes & Noble, have thrived due to the level of customer engagement their technology has facilitated.

According to a recent report by Forrester Research, “95 percent of consumers consider all advertising claims dishonest or inauthentic.” Forrester didn’t say that 95 percent of your advertising claims are dishonest or inauthentic. They said that’s what the people you’re trying to sell to think.

The research clearly shows that consumers want to be engaged with the products and services they purchase and not just simply buy them. The intelligent use of technology is the key. According to Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, authors of “Groundswell,” “Consumers do trust brands that truly empathize with their needs.” Companies must be respectful of consumers and engage them as value co-creators rather than passive users.

But how? By removing the technological barriers created and allowing people to talk with people. The telephone menu options that we “must listen to because they have recently changed” should be the first to go. The tedious processes and levels of management a customer must struggle through in order to resolve a complaint should be next. Although customers continue to scream that they want “relationships,” business continues building barriers to prevent them.

Replace the barriers with investments in smart people and smart technology – the technologies and people that give customers what they want – that allow them to co-create your product or service, by asking for, getting and reacting to customer feedback. Invite a conversation either online, in person or on the phone. What are people saying about your offerings on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media?

In the book “Get Lucky,” authors Thor Muller and Lane Becker describe how a company was able to add another very successful product line by simply engaging, listening and reacting to a customer’s feedback. Timbuck2 is a very successful company that makes rugged bike messenger bags for a niche market: young people who the authors describe as living a “hip, urban, cutting-edge” lifestyle.

A customer became a new mother and asked if Timbuck2 would make a diaper bag. As Timbuck2 explored the request, they found that other customers had already modified or “hacked” their bags for that purpose and had posted pictures on their websites showing how they had modified the cell phone holder to accommodate a bottle and the note pad holder to hold two diapers. Technology facilitated their shift.

Borders and Barnes & Noble both saw a shift in customer preference driven in great part by online giant Amazon. Instead of embracing the possibility of future web-based commerce, Borders decided to spend billions of dollars renovating their brick-and-mortar stores and vastly increase its selection of merchandise. Borders filed for bankruptcy.

Barnes & Noble started to invest in its own online store while continuing their mega brick-and-mortar operations. By accepting the change in their customers’ preferences to e-commerce, Barnes & Noble asked how new technology could help them compete. That question helped them develop the Nook and go head-to-head with Amazon’s Kindle.

No one will continue to enjoy future success by ignoring customer preference changes caused by technological advances as demonstrated by the stories of Timbuck2, Barnes & Noble and Borders. Recognize that the use of technology can help or hurt a company by either creating barriers or facilitating engagement and building relationships.

Questions for discussion:

  • What technological barriers have we inadvertently created for customer engagement?
  • Will technology cause further customer behavioral preferences? What will they be?

Joe Murtagh, The DreamSpeaker, is an international motivational speaker, meeting facilitator and business trainer. For questions or comments, email Joe@TheDreamSpeaker.com, visit TheDreamSpeaker.com or call (800) 239-0058.

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