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Losing Touch with Customers

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We live in an interesting age. Drowning in a sea of social media, we count our “friends” in the hundreds and yet, many of us would be hard pressed to name three individuals we could call at three o’clock in the morning to bail us out of a jam—three individuals who would show up before they asked what the call was all about or what kind of trouble you were in.

We transmit and receive more information faster than ever and yet we know less about those close to us than we could or should. As a culture, we have mastered the art of sharing ourselves, our thoughts and our ideas across time and space with the great mass of humanity. We document every minute detail of our lives with blog posts, live images and streaming video and yet still find ourselves searching for the meaning of it all. We’re so busy looking down, pounding out letters on a glass screen with our thumbs, that we’ve forgotten how to connect with another human face-to-face, heart-to-heart.

As business owners, we’re looking for newer, better, faster, more effective and more efficient ways to communicate with our clients over the Internet and through social media. Some of us have embraced these new tools without realizing that an automated, electronically enhanced online presence cannot and will never fully take the place of the more traditional, deeper and more personal relationships our fathers and forefathers built their businesses on. We have apparently forgotten that the very essence of just about every successful service business is the very deep and personal bond forged between the individual providing the service and the individual receiving it—between the consumer and the brand.

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From a client’s perspective, the more transactional and shallow the interaction, the easier it is to abandon. The deeper the bond, the harder to shake or shatter. From the service provider’s perspective, the deeper the relationship, the more satisfying.

And, yet, our industry spends millions, perhaps billions of dollars every year to find new and better ways to push messages out to clients and potential clients. Yet, no one is boasting that meaningful relationships are any less critical.

There isn’t a day that goes by without the constant interruption of call after call, marketer after marketer, promising to grow our business by enhancing our presence online or improving our ratings with Google, Yelp!, Facebook or Angie’s List.

The promises are seductive, but the risk can be significant. The arguments are compelling, but the costs can be crippling. The pressure is enormous, almost irresistible, to abandon the old in favor of the new. And yet any savvy business owner will tell you that it takes a balance of both personal relationships and digital communication to succeed today.

But, who can resist the seductive pull of the newest and the best, especially when the traditional model is so demanding, so exhausting? How can anyone be expected to make the kind of commitment it takes to know every customer, shake every hand, make every call or look every client in the eye?

If you’re looking for a real return-on-investment that’s where you’ll find it. It’s on the other side of the car you just delivered to a client because they were unable to pick the vehicle up. It’s on the other side of the call you made to see how the surgery went. It was locked inside the car you left outside the gate for pickup when a client couldn’t get there in time, inside the envelope with the invoice you told him they could stop by and pay the next day or the day after.

It’s the time you take, the explanations you offer, the personal nature of the service you provide, the very real way in which you manifest just how much you care. It seems like the more robust technology becomes, the stronger the pull, the greater the enticement to join or to follow. But, my advice is to beware. Resist getting swallowed up in the technology. At least, not at the expense of losing touch, because I can assure you that if you do, you just might lose everything.

Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at Contact him at

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