The Importance of High Touch in a High-Tech World

The other day, I received a form letter in the mail from my life insurance company. It was the exact same letter I’ve received once or twice a year for the past few years.

The letter starts out by calling me a “valued client” and goes on to suggest that my financial advisor can help me with many other products and urges me to contact him to review our needs.

It’s been four years since we established the policy and I’ve not seen the advisor since. Nor, has he called to follow up with us or ask about our financial goals or see what he can do to help.

And you know what?

When it came time for us to work with a financial planner a couple of years ago, we hired someone else.

In the world of technology and automation, it’s really easy to program automatic letters to follow up with clients or send email drip campaigns.

And, while all of those things can indeed be beneficial, they need to be coupled with high touch.

Balancing technology and customer service

Last week, Adam Toporek talked about the changes JC Penney is making with their check out experience. They are forgoing check out counters in favor of self-serve check outs using a variety of mobile technologies.

Although this sounds like an innovative idea, it removes an important element from the buying experience — customer service.

Technology can definitely be used to improve our lives and how we run our businesses, but it shouldn’t completely replace the human element of how we deliver our service.

In the marketing world, we should look for ways technology can help us better serve and interact with our clients.
  This means we should focus just as much on the customer experience as we do going out and attracting business. After all, it’s easier (and more cost effective) to focus on customer retention than customer acquisition.

Integrating high touch into your business

So, how do you integrate high touch into your customer experience? Here are some ideas:

  • Pick up the phone and call customers to check on them — not just to sell them more stuff.
  • Find out how your customers like to be communicated with and engage that way – phone, email, text message, Skype, etc.
  • Take the time to understand your clients’ pain points and find solutions that will make their lives better and easier — even if it’s not something you provide.
  • Make recommendations that benefit your clients (instead of focusing on lining your pockets).
  • Look for ways to make the buying process painless and simple for clients.
  • Ask clients how you can serve them better.
  • Write a handwritten note to say hello and thank them for their business.
  • Say hello to them on social networks individually.
  • Anticipate their needs and doing something BEFORE they ask for it.
  • Offering a little something extra for free, just to surprise and delight them.
  • Go out of your way to do something fun and unexpected to reward loyal customers.
  • Remember their hobbies and interests and send gifts (birthday, holiday, thank you, etc.) that go along with that.
  • Send articles to them that you think they might enjoy.
  • Go beyond remembering their birthday and remember their kids’ birthdays or other significant milestones or events in their lives.
  • Send them a little something for other holidays, such as Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving.

What do you think? What are some ways you integrate high touch into your business?

Image credit: Seth W.

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Laura Click

Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

13 replies on “The Importance of High Touch in a High-Tech World”

I think insurance agents are the absolute worst when it comes to customer service. They are your best friend until you sign on the dotted line and then, poof! Gone to greener customers. I wonder when they’re gong to get the clue?

We can probably lump auto sales in this category, too. How did you not know that I need a bit of body work on the vehicle I just got from you a few years ago? Maybe a check in call it find out; and b/c that is a rotating door like insurance, we need to point the finger at the managers.

Thanks for the shout, Laura!

It’s amazing how much repeat business is out there and ready for the taking of companies would just wise up and learn to communicate better with them. As far as insurance/financial planning goes, that’s why we’re working with a fee-only advisor. We pay a flat fee for recommendations instead of the focus being on selling products and disappearing. I think that model makes a ton of sense and could be applied in a lot of service-based businesses.

Thanks for stopping by, Jayme!

Oh boy… here comes the annual dogpile on insurance agents. Are we that easy a target? Doctors and nurses continually appear at the top of the lists on which we appear near the bottom (most admired, most trusted, etc.)

Re-read this article and insert your doctor, your attorney, your grocer, your bank teller, your coffee chain, your ISP, your cable company, your mail carrier.

Maybe some wrote you a personal note; most did not. Maybe some phoned you pro-actively; most did not.

My point is only that it’s disingenuous to single out any one career as particuarly more egregious than another.

/proud 2nd-generation insurance family

I don’t think Jayme’s point or my post was meant to dogpile on insurance agents necessarily. That just happened to be the example I used to illustrate the point that many service-based businesses make the sale and then never check back in to see how they can further help their customers.

Point well taken, LTCA. If you knew me, you’d know I give equal time to every industry and individual working within. And, I don’t bash unless there’s something to bash about. At the end of the day, it’s about customer service. Because I HAVE to have insurance and I don’t have to go the doctor, there’s a slight difference.

I’d like to spin this discussion this way:

How many insurance agents (auto, life, health) does one adult have in a lifetime? And, I’d rather have a personal experience with an agent vs. signing on with a company directly. I am going to guess that since I moved to Ohio in the last 8 years, I have had perhaps 7 agents?

Do you know how many doctors and dentists I’ve had? 1 each

In my lifetime of using financial planning? Oh, about 5 or 6 different ones who thought they were the bomb and were not.

How do you keep your customers satisfied as an insurance agent? Is there something you’re doing that makes people stay with you although premiums are jacked up all over?

The insurance industry has gotten a tremendously rotten egg of late, and policyholders are left holding the shell.

Hi Soulati, this is a conversation that’s ripe for commentary, and I’m elated you’ve given me the opportunity to respond (I hope it’s not too off-topic for the general thread).

I can appreciate your perspective, it’s one that I hear frequently. My own is quite different. As I suggested, I grew up in an “insurance family”, so it’s a field I’ve known intimately for 40 years. I know what agents can do, and I know what they cannot do. I’m pretty good at finding good ones, and I can find out who the creeps are.

As a writer and contributor myself, I’ve written passionately about the importance of “the agent”. It’s one of my mantras that consumers should spend at least as much time researching their agents as their insurance companies. The fact that personal finance columnists and magazines haven’t figured this out yet is one of my all-time pet peeves (and leads to so much un-necessary grief and mis-understanding). I’m afraid far too many consumers underestimate the value of a potent agent in their corner.

How many agents have I had? 1

He doesn’t call me. He sends me a form letter annually. Occasionally I’ll check a box and then we’ll have a conversation about it. He’s an absolute expert. Sharp as a tack.

I think it all comes down to “expectation management”. Going into the relationship, what do you expect of your insurance agent or financial advisor? I think when there’s a mis-match, that’s when we’re seeing trouble.

LTCA’s clients primarily “expect” us to be there for them at claim time. That’s when we “make our money”, so to speak. I always say, paying claims is where the rubber meets the road. Take everything else and throw it away– these policies absolutely must pay claims. So that is the point where we MUST show up. We’re now in our 5th decade of marketing LTCi exclusively, so our policyholders must be pretty happy with us (you can view a rotating excerpt of testimonials on our Consumer Site homepage).

Thanks for the conversation,
Stephen D. Forman, Senior Vice-President

You know, I’ve been thinking some more about my earlier response this evening, particularly about “expectation management” and Laura’s insightful remark above about learning how your clients communicate & engaging with them in the media they prefer.

For instance, the New York Times ran a story a year or so back which covered the demise of the phone in the business setting. The story received widespread attention and generated huge discussion… with most respondents expressing relief that someone had finally articulated what they were feeling– good riddance! they said.

Fast forward to this week, with AARP advising seniors: if someone calls you, hang up before they can get their words out. Phone = danger.

Folks with whom one has an existing relationship are going to be a different story (obviously), but generally speaking, I think new media are evolving to meet the demands of a more tech-savvy client. I was cheered by a recent study which found most clients– given the choice– would prefer to conduct business by Live Chat. I think that’s a brilliant option, and one I’d love to deploy in the future.

Give your clients multiple channels of reaching you, and then engage with them before they know they “need” you, and that just might be the modern recipe for success. Above all, “exceed expectations”.

Laura, this is an excellent list of tips. I particularly like the ones centered on finding out more about what the customer wants. And that is where technology can help, executing on that knowledge and providing the back end to a high touch, personalized strategy.

Glad you liked it, Adam! That means a lot coming from the customer service guy. 🙂

And yes, love your point about using technology to help us be better at tracking and executing the high touch. So true!

Please allow me to play Devil’s Advocate (I seem to have carved out a niche here doing so).
I can’t really disagree with your central points– the argument over “high touch service” is timeless, and one that’s been voiced with increasing urgency in the financial services community. Your suggestions are likewise thorough and welcome. If there’s one takeaway from this article I would share with my own producers, it’s “customer retention is easier and more cost-effective than customer acquisition”. Yes!
However, I can’t help but think… had your initial agent simply taken the time to mail-merge your name into his annual client-review letter (something he *should* have been able to do), that ILLUSION of personalization may have been all you were craving.
Likewise, had your agent called you in the middle of the year just to say “Hi, how are you doing?” that also may have been all that was necessary to retain your business– EVEN THOUGH that too was an illusion. Let’s face it, even as you wrote your list, you knew these activities were all pretense. Feignts.
Let me throw one more thing at you: would you not prefer a financial advisor who is so successful that he’s busy all the time over one who has all day to chat? There may be a reason why the latter agent has so much time on his hands to pen notecards…

You’re totally right, Stephen. You can absolutely use technology to create the illusion of high touch – or at least do part of the work for you. I think the thing about this example is that I’ve received the same letter multiple times urging ME to reach out to the advisor instead of the other way around. A little bit of effort on the advisors part could have gone a long way.

As to your point about success of the financial planner, they can’t help me with my finances if I haven’t heard from them in four years. When we initially met, we talked about five year goals and where we wanted to be. It’s hard for a financial planner to help you with that if they don’t check back in to see what’s going on in your life and how they can help you. That’s why we went with someone else when we needed more help because we wanted someone who would show more effort in understanding our need.

Make sense?

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