shutterstock 95033701 - It’s personal

In a world of digital distance, old fashioned communication matters more

Last Christmas our chief executive Lulie decided to send out some Christmas presents, along with handwritten cards, to a selection of clients who we’d worked with closely last year. You may have been among the recipients (if not, we apologise. . . maybe this year?).

The effect of wrapping individual presents, writing cards and mailing them was a few sore fingers and backs at this end. However its impact on our clients was profound: we received thank you emails and calls from just about everyone who received something.

Turns out that Lulie wasn’t the only one to have this idea. In January the music and gossip sites reported that international pop star Taylor Swift had done something very similar for a few of her most devoted fans at Christmas – in one case driving a car-load of spectacular presents to their home in Connecticut.

Of course this method of customer relationship management is as old as the hills. What makes it distinctive now is simply that so many of our interactions are at a distance, electronic and relatively banal (how many unread emails did you bin today?), ideas such as a) going to see a customer or b) doing something thoughtful for them tend to be seen as quite radical.

It also feeds our human need for individual attention, which we documented in the trend ‘Custom’ in our Global Consumer Trend Report 2015. The handwritten welcome note in a hotel room, or simply the fact that the maitre d’ in the restaurant recognises you and shakes you by the hand: the personal touch can transform a mundane encounter into a special one.

I am not dissing digital communications, which can be incredibly effective and are far more efficiently delivered than a piece of paper mail. I am also aware of the inherent paradox of this article, given that it is going out on our website and being sent to those clients who have opted in to our communications.

However I am becoming convinced that the pendulum has swung too far towards this medium, and we are losing touch with the more personal, one-on-one communication which used to be the lifeblood of any business. The other paradox to grapple with here is that the wine category’s slowness to embrace digital, and insistence on sticking with antiquated notions such as customer tastings and events, has probably insulated it from the more extreme symptoms of digital distance.

So perhaps you don’t need the advice. But if you do feel (as I increasingly do) that digital is proving to be a window to customers that is often closed and soundproofed, try the following experiment: instead of emailing that customer, phone them; if you have time in your schedule for that meeting, say yes; and don’t be afraid to use the post once in a while.

Author: Richard Halstead