Should you automate your customer point of contact?

The other day I was talking to a client, and she runs a reflexology clinic. Her customers love her. She told me a marketing ‘guru’ had suggested she remove her phone number and just add an automated booking app onto her website. That would get rid of the need to talk to people, which according to the ‘guru’, “wasted too much time”.

Hmmm. Let’s explore that. Talking to customers “wastes time”. How would you feel if someone said that about talking to you when you were the customer in question? Probably safe to say, you’d not be too happy. You’re the customer, not an imposition.

Especially when it comes to the B2B sales space, where complexity is often high or high touch/high involvement B2C services like health, people need to feel there’s a level of trust there before they contemplate parting with their cash.

You can’t rush developing a trusted relationship. It takes time, effort and that starts with a smile and some listening at the point of contact.

The effort, smiling and listening are key relationship building features that marketing automation seeks to avoid. A computer booking service can’t deliver that (no matter how many emojis you put on it). It doesn’t give you, the business owner, proper clues about what a potential client is feeling/needing or how urgent something is. Plus according to real-life gurus, Steve Jobs, and Henry Ford, customers often get their anticipated needs wrong.

Think about it from the perspective of booking a therapist, let’s say a physio, podiatrist or even a beautician. You, the client, have a problem with your body. You’re not happy, something’s wrong, you need a warm voice who can sort what you need efficiently, but you still want a level of ‘comfort’, even before you get there. It’s about being looked after.

At best, all automation does is just given you basic data, which then means, you’re possibly going to have to add time either in the appointment or chasing details of the booking.  At worst, it messes up your diary, because clients don’t book for the right things, the booking glitches and you waste their time/money, you get angry rants on social media, etc. Not a good look.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology in the right places, but not when the technology seeks to eradicate the basics of relationship building. Booking technology is the equivalent of “don’t call and waste our time, just book online – because we’re too busy to talk to you and smiling whilst we talk takes too much effort – but hey, we’ll take your cash”.

But back to my reflexologist friend. I asked her about her customers– most of whom range from frazzled mums to older ladies. “Why do they love you?” I asked. “Because I understand who they are and I listen”. Hmmm.

“Would they really prefer to use an app to book?” I asked. “Probably not, they like to talk to me. Sometimes, I’m the only warm voice they might hear in a day”.  Oh, right, so by removing a phone number from her site, she was essentially telling them, she didn’t care or want their business anymore. “Ohhhhhhh”.

People do business with people they know, like and trust. Full stop. End of story.

Moral of the story – think about what your customers need, not what’s trendy. And if your business is really too busy to answer your own phone (congrats BTW), you might consider an outsourced phone bookings service – with a real human, a smile and a friendly ear.