In casual conversation it’s not uncommon to hear someone described as being “old school.” Most often it’s not an ageist insult, but a compliment – a label that conveys respect for someone who lives and acts according to traditional values. It’s a nod to simpler times when things were “done right,” like sending a handwritten thank-you note, holding the door for the person behind you, or using the turn signals on your vehicle (don’t get me started…).
Where in business can “going old school” set you apart in the minds of your customers? Where can doing something in a traditional way be not just an anachronism but a positive distinction from the rest? In the work we do with our clients there is one topic that seems to emerge, and that’s communication – particularly with customers.
We now have more electronic communication tools than most of us could have dreamed of only 20 years ago. The combination of mobile phones, e-mail, conference calling, Web meetings, and video blogs makes it easier than ever for us to keep in touch with customers – and for them to contact us at any time and from anywhere. Still, when we read the thousands of B2B voice-of-the-customer interviews that our clients conduct with their customers each year, communication consistently appears as an item for improvement. Despite all of the sophisticated means of connecting, it’s pretty clear that many customers still crave direct, face-to-face human interaction with their suppliers.
Even companies that sell products widely seen as simple commodities often hear from their customers that they want regular visits from their key suppliers. With all the cool tools – not to mention the information available on the Web – why do customers still want to sit eyeball to eyeball with salespeople, service representatives, and technical experts?
Here’s some of what customers say:
- Keep me informed of trends in your market that might impact my plans for the future
- Even better, share what you know about my markets and how my customers’ needs are evolving
- Stay current with my company’s strategies, goals, and needs
- Build and sustain higher, broader, and deeper relationships with key individuals in my organization
- Demonstrate that my business is important to you – show me that you care
All of these can be accomplished, to some extent, at arm’s length. But customers generally want some level of direct human interaction to supplement the routine electronic communications we engage in every day.
Being in the business of helping our clients go old school with their customers is a point of pride for us. In an age when the quality of the customer experience is often expressed in the form of metrics from anonymous respondents displayed on dashboards, it’s gratifying to read comments like, “Thanks for coming here to get my feedback. It shows that you’re committed to understanding our needs and listening. I really appreciate the personal approach.” Sounds pretty old school to me.