Not so long ago, if you wanted to buy something, you nipped out to the shops. If you needed money to buy it, you went to the bank and stood politely in a queue until it was your turn to go to the window. If you needed petrol, you drove to the garage and a man in an oily overall came out and put it in the tank for you. If you wanted to keep in touch with friends or family, you wrote them a letter. Or visited.
Nowadays, technology means we can dispense altogether with such personal interactions. We can shop online, bank online, self serve petrol from robot pumps and communicate by text, email or social network. We don’t need to leave the house. We don’t need to be physically present to do the things we used to enjoy doing face-to-face.
For example, recent market research shows that visits to bank branches have declined by 10 per cent as “home banking” transactions by Smartphone and home computer grow in popularity. Similar trends are reported for supermarket purchases, event tickets, holiday bookings and similar consumer-facing online transactions that dispense with the need for actual personal contact.
Which leads me to wonder… from the other side of the counter, so to speak… are businesses losing the ability to deal with customers face to face?
The nearest many of us get these days to personal contact with an organisation is via a “push 1 for sales, push 2 for accounts, push 3 for…” robot that we need to navigate round with endless patience before finally getting to speak to a real live person, usually somewhere on the Indian subcontinent.
If we as consumers are willing to forsake face to face with the organisations we trade with and buy from, should we be surprised if those organisations forget (or neglect) the real value of customer care.
Have we forgotten about face-to-face service? And do we care?