THE BLOG
12/10/2014 04:55 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

How Technology Is Taking a Byte Out of Customer Service

I'm not sure when it happened, but I can assure you, I am not happy about it. As a guy that has owned a business for 30 years and been the primary employee (okay, the only employee), I have gotten the chance to put on many hats.

I manage every department including marketing, accounting, sales and of course customer service too. I must admit, most of the departments, save one, I don't really like running. Part of the problem is, I'm usually too over budget to hire anyone. That's my way of saying I don't make enough money to pay anyone to handle the work, so I have to do it all myself.

Relationship building and customer service are at an all time low. Where are all the humans?

Enter technology, a real business saver. A quick Google search can help us find, in an instant, high tech solutions to any departmental systems problems we have. Shareware provides us with free (my favorite word) software that can do virtually everything. Accounting, marketing, sales management and customer service can all be automated, and that's great. Or is it? Here is where the scales start to get a bit unbalanced. While technology has allowed us to be more productive, more efficient and more profitable, technology has also sapped the human element out of the many important aspects of business today. Relationship building and customer service are at an all time low. Where are all the humans?

Tweets, likes, posts, shares, upticks, mentions, chats, bleeps and bytes help us express ourselves faster than ever, and with only a few mouse clicks. You'd think that with all of these digital conversations going on around us that people would be more connected than ever. And they are. The problem is people are connected to technology and not real people. #Fail. Real people are human beings, not smart phones, not tablets, not laptops and not hardware. Real people build real relationships, face-to-face, human to human. Real people interact, they shake hands and they smile at one another. Real people express themselves through real emotions and not emoticons.

Real people express themselves through real emotions and not emoticons.

When I was growing up (now I sound like my mother), there were full serve gas stations where the attendant checked under the hood, cleaned your windshield, wore a uniform and thanked you for coming. When I pull up now to get gas for my car, the only relationship I have is with the credit card swiper thingy or with a guy behind 3 inches of bullet proof glass. At the grocery store, there was a kid that I tipped a quarter to to take my bags to the car. Good luck finding that kid now, and if you do, he's got on his iPod earbuds. If you had a question about your credit card account you would call and speak with live person, not an automated, profit maximizing, people minimizing, digital replica or an outsourced customer service center making me feel like a 16 digit number.

Recently, I had an issue with a service provider. I could not find their phone number on their bill or website, so I emailed them and followed up with their online chat system (I think you can see where this is going). When I questioned them about their omission of their phone number on their bill and website, the response I got shocked me. "We cannot accept any phone calls and we can make no outbound calls either." Seriously, you did this on purpose and this was by design? Why any company would not want to speak with their customers is beyond me.

Why any company would not want to speak with their customers is beyond me.

Business is about relationships, and it's about making a connection. I love the feeling of helping a customer work through a problem and presenting them with a solution. It's not just about analytics, conversion rates and click throughs. You can't put empathy on a spreadsheet or build analytics for converting a laugh to new business. If you've forgotten about being human, it's not too late. Use technology to your advantage. Digitally network your way into a face to face meeting so you can get to know someone, earn a relationship and their business. Do it the old fashioned way and make a connection that will last a lifetime, not just for 140 characters or less.

Doug Sandler, owns a company called Nice Guys Finish First. He trains organizations how to build better relationships with customers. Doug, known as Mr. Nice Guy, writes a weekly blog on providing exemplary service, creating winning customer experiences and building relationships. Doug is also a keynote speaker, author and expert on the topic of customer service. His website is www.DougSandler.com