As customers become more empowered we need to get closer to them. However, technology often makes this difficult. 

I have two banks that I deal with. In the last month one of them informed me that it was closing down all its branches. All future interactions will be over the phone or Internet. The thing that keeps me with this bank is that its online banking works well. I have zero loyalty to it.

I have a good relationship with the manager of the other bank. He’s really helpful, never pushy. Their online banking is not great but if I had to choose only one bank I would have no hesitation in choosing this one.

Technology is on a relentless march to replace people. Because people are expensive and they make mistakes. And in so many situations, people are just not as efficient as machines.

But there is one very important area where people are still much better than machines: understanding other people. People have the capacity for empathy. Machines, at least for now, don’t.

When you remove human interaction, you can save costs and become more efficient, but there is a cost, a cost that will rarely be found on any year-end financial statement. It is a loss of understanding of and empathy for your customers. These customers become just numbers: users, traffic, HITS.

While this technological march is happening, the customer is on another relentless march towards more empowerment, more belief and trust in themselves and their peers. And less belief and trust in organizations.

These two relentless trends can result in the customer thinking that organizations don’t understand them and don’t care to. That all organizations care about is the bottom line. So, if the empowered customer thinks that, what way do you think they will respond? They will become less and less loyal.

As customers become more sophisticated and empowered, many organizations are closing down the channels that would allow them to get to know this confident and skeptical customer.

Tomer Sharon, a researcher at Google, told me that he was “amazed to learn that some engineers work on products for three years without meeting a single human being who actually uses their code.” I was not at all amazed. Most web professionals that I have met over the years have little or no interaction with their websites’ customers.

The human touch still matters. One of the most effective ways of getting management to invest more in their websites is to show them short videos (2 minutes max) of people trying (and failing) to do things on their websites. Managers are shocked to see these failures. Yet the failures occur every day, but because they don’t see people fail, these failures don’t register as actual, real human failures.

Technology is absolutely wonderful but we as we close down old face-to-face channels, we need to open up new ones. We have to find ways to develop an ever-deeper understanding of complex and often highly cynical customers. We must get to know our customers really well.