The vicissitudes of 2020 have greatly accelerated the pace of adoption of virtual and digital means of interaction with not just family and friends but colleagues and suppliers. Online shopping has substantially increased and, in the UK at least, a number of retailers that were struggling before the pandemic have closed shops or closed down. The shift in employment opportunities from working in retail to working in delivery will neither suit nor generate alternative employment for all those who are displaced.
While there are substantial advantages to be gained from on line transactions – browsing is quick and easy, searching no longer a matter of traipsing from shop to shop just flicking between screens, no travel or parking costs – and no sneaky double shot skinny frapuccinos with a liqorice twist (or a black americano in my case) – there are downsides too. Core amongst these are the loss of nuance in the transactions and the absence of human warmth in the engagements.
Two recent experiences will illustrate.
Following a change in the lead officers of a small business there was a need to change the signatories on the bank mandate. Set up for online banking, the form was duly downloaded, completed by all parties, signed and physically posted to the bank – the digital service relies on an analogue process. Sometime later in the absence of any response an attempt was made to contact the bank. The usual delays ensued –
“your call is important to us”
“you are being held in a queue”
“we are experiencing unusually high call demand”
– and all the other excuses whose underlying message is –
“we are concerned with short run cost control not satisfying customer needs”.
There is a shorter, pithier version but I live in hope that a child might read this blog sometime!
Persistence and continuing presence (one advantage of a lockdown is that you have nowhere else to be) eventually led to a conversation with a human being:
Self: “I sent this form in on date XX and have not received a response”
Bank: “OK, let me look for that”
Bank: “Oh yes, we have received that form but we cannot action it because YOUR signature is not recognised”
NB: I am the original signatory and operate the account on the internet almost daily; a fact that didn’t seem to concern them when my signature apparently didn’t match!
Self: “OK, perhaps somebody could have told us? What do we need to do?”
Bank: “You need to go to your local branch with a copy of the form and evidence of YOUR identity so they can verify the signature. Yes, we should have sent you a letter”
NB2: I do read tedious letters from the bank, who knows one day I may get an important one!
Some weeks later, post lockdown, I present myself at the bank with the form, my passport and driving licence.
Self: “Good morning, I wonder if you can help?” I repeat the story.
Jessica (Bank Adviser, not her real name): “If you let me have the form and your passport and driving licence I will go and check”
Two minutes later.
Jessica: “Your signature is fine, I don’t know why they told you it wasn’t. We DO need to confirm the identity of the new people though as they are not on our system”.
Long story short, one of them was but ‘the system’ had an incorrect post code (one digit out) recorded.
In less than 5 minutes a helpful, competent human being dissolved the problem and did so willingly and courteously, plugging the gaps in the digital system.
The second story is shorter. Transporting a few furniture items to a charity collection point I drove in to the car park. No obvious reception area or person but a man, let’s call him Dave, loading a van.
Self: “Hello, I have a few items for you here, who do I see”
Dave: “Let me have a look. Oh, excellent, these look really nice, let’s put them over here. Thank you, they will find a new home soon” Helpfully assisting me in emptying the car.
What a pleasure, no fuss, no forms, just a genuine, helpful, appreciative human being, busy being busy at doing his (volunteer) job.
All is not lost then for retail and other services. Those which maintain human warmth in the transaction, sustain authenticity in the relationships, respond to the loyalty of the human beings who grant the organisation its existence will be rewarded with respect, reciprocal loyalty and long term survival.
As the world of work and interaction becomes more and more digital, transaction oriented and lacking in nuance let us never forget “What a difference a Dave makes”