Influence of the “personal touch” – How important is it?


As the 4IR gathers momentum and customer’s knowledge and ability to find out what is available in the market place becomes ever more available so “The mirror test” will become more important.

“The personal touch is only relevant if the rest of the offering stacks up” James Banham 

The “personal touch” has been a big player in the marketing of businesses over the years. You will find very little promotional material, especially in the service sector, that does not mention “friendly” and “personal”. The result is that businesses believe it is a key part of their success, what people value and thus they are very reluctant to let go of its importance. The reality is that it only becomes a key factor if you have got everything else right. The idea that people come to you just because you are “personal” and “friendly” is misguided; you have also got to be in line with the markets. However, let us take a deeper look.

Personal is when you tailor something specifically for someone. It makes them feel special, valued and wanted which are all uplifting feelings which warm them to you. If you reflect on any marketing campaign it plays on these very sentiments. It is how friendships develop, popular people tend to have a lot of empathy, a natural ability to listen and respond in a way that makes the recipient feel good. There is nothing new in this; successful salesmen have used this technique since man started trading. But what happens in a business relationship when someone finds out that not everything they have been told is true, the product is not better than the cheaper competitive products in the market or whatever it might be that they were told? They feel betrayed. The friendship is lost and so is the customer. Which brings us back to Reality check No 2 the mirror test. How many times have you gone and checked out on the internet what you were told by the salesman before making the purchase?

Yes, selling widgets is different from selling professional services, but with more and more AI hitting the internet it is so easy to get second opinions and more importantly first opinions. Computers are far more direct and simplistic than humans after all they are not trying to develop an economic relationship with a client. In addition, the client can go at his pace, if there is something he does not understand he can look it up. Yes, he may still want to go and discuss his findings with a human expert in that field, but it will be with an expert and the meeting will be at a much higher level and I suspect the fee will be agreed upfront. On the other hand, he may be confident of his findings and proceed with no further discussions.

How advanced will AI get and what is so different about it from what we have had up until now? Much of AI is being driven by IBM. They are working on a cognitive intelligence system known as “IBM Watson” which is a very different form of intelligence from the previous AI systems, which were programmed using rules (algorithmic) and then leveraged so the computer could make decisions faster than the human but it had no understanding of the implications of the decisions it was making. With cognitive systems, they will incorporate human learning and will therefore challenge work previously thought impossible for a computer.

We are moving into totally unchartered territory and today’s businesses have got to find a path through disruption and chaos which is now fast becoming the order of the day. Over the last few decades our professional services have primarily marketed themselves on giving advice. The reality is much of that advice has been of a technical nature or a compulsory service required by statute such as an audit. Information and knowledge is now often available on the internet for free and this will only get better and more user friendly. If one is honest it has been the entrepreneur who has masterminded his business plan, learnt from his mistakes and perfected his model, all of which has taken place over time and much of which has been passed down. But time is something that will now be at a premium, and old methods are unlikely to always be the answer. A constant awareness and reflection of what is happening in the market place is going to be essential for long term success. So, will it be advice the entrepreneur seeks or the right question?

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