Knock, Knock, It’s More Channels Than We Thought

Last week I gave a presentation to an audience that was mostly Brazilian. The presentation was about multi-channel marketing and user experience. When I was preparing the presentation, I put together material for the common channels my clients typically use. That includes the usual suspects (web, store, mobile, catalog) as well as some less common ones (TV station, mall kiosk, etc.). But I wasn’t prepared when the sponsor of the presentation asked me to include “door to door sales.”

She told me that in Brazil, a lot of people prefer to do business in person. Now, I have never been there, so I am only going off of what I was told. She said that oftentimes, a cold call from a sales person will result in the prospect requesting someone to stop by their house and talk about things.

I was a little floored, to be honest. In my techno-centric American view of the world of user experience, I never really thought about offline channels beyond the typical ones: regular postal mail, catalogs, kiosks, and brick-and-mortar stores. The notion of a multi-channel marketing system including instructions like “go to this guy’s house and have coffee with him” was frankly beyond the scope of my experience.

This got me to thinking about how I had been viewing multi-channel marketing: from a web-centric perspective, or at least from an Internet-centric perspective. While this might be fine for techno-centric areas, is it fine for rural or developing areas that still rely on a handshake to close a deal?

But, more importantly, what is the strength of that “handshake deal” in general? Even in our technorati world, is there still room for that handshake to happen? And, if there isn’t, are we missing an important element of the personal touch when we are designing a multi-channel approach that doesn’t include real human contact?

Over the last 10 years or so of writing this column, I’ve talked a lot about the need for a human voice, and a personal touch (from a human, not a machine). Still, that message gets lost when all these new technology platforms promise even better self-service. But is self-service at war with the very notion of connecting to your customers on a personal level? And is it even possible to connect this way in a scalable fashion?

These questions and more went through my mind as I put together the presentation. My basic suppositions were the following:

  • While some countries or territories require a physical interaction (i.e., an actual house call), most multi-channel strategies should try to include a human component to them.
  • This human touch can take on many forms. Presently, service companies assign an account manager who personally connects with you. Sweetwater, my favorite online music store, has a sales rep who calls me to check in with me every now and again. He also emails me personally.
  • Human touch that is centered around the brand might be just as impactful. Some companies sponsor “user groups/meetups” so that users can connect with each other in person. Last night, for instance, Apple presented the new version of Final Cut at its “Final Cut Supermeet” in Vegas during NAB. It was one Apple guy talking to hundreds of users. But those users all hung out with each other before, during, and afterwards. So the sense of community and connection to the brand is still strong and personal.
  • Similarly, large service companies (like Coremetrics) have annual client summits that achieve a similar purpose to these “user meetups,” though in a more formalized way.

Does your multi-channel strategy only seek to find ways to let the customers “do it themselves,” or does it include ways to connect with your customers on a personal level? Do you encourage your customers to get together and form bonds with each other?

While going to someone’s house to close a deal (as in the Brazilian case study I began this column with) might seem extreme to some people, there is one core tenant that we can learn from in this behavior: people trust you when you look them in the eye.

The trick is figuring out how to look someone in the eye if your multi-channel user experience has effectively cut off most human interaction.

Comments, thoughts? Leave me a note below!

Until next time…
Jack

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