Stop trying to automate relationships!

Written on 26 August, 2009 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories MarketingSocial Media

Have you ever known someone who gives a pet name to their car and talks about it as if it was a real person? If you're like me, you think they're slightly kooky for imbuing a pile of machinery with a personality and building an emotional attachment with it. But many businesses continue to hope all their customers are equally illogical by expecting them to form relationships with a brand while only providing them with automated machinery in return.

We know technology makes us lazy. Our tolerance for doing anything seems to have been diminished by our ability to outsource so many of our day-to-day tasks to gadgets, widgets, automated thingummies, machines, appliances and more. Now we're impatient if the web takes more than a few seconds to load or if some complex piece of kit doesn't work for us straight out of the box.

This desire to automate extends to the way we relate to each other too - and this is where it gets dangerous. Many businesses approach the web as a path to automated success and treat their customers as an inconvenience that can be outsourced to technology. With content management systems, email auto-responders, plugins and more, online business owners hope to avoid all that messy, time wasting 'customer engagement'. Instead, they put gimmicks and technologies into their websites, plug it all into Twitter or Facebook, sit back and wait for the money to roll in with push-button convenience.

Just like an automatic car still needs someone in the driver's seat to actually - you know - drive, the internet still needs a human to make it work. Understanding technology is not the way to online success. Being able to code websites or bend javascript to your will or design incredibly complex software means nothing if you don't understand how people will relate to it and use it. And I don't mean how you want them to use it - I mean the way they really will. They won't push that button to do you a favour. They won't befriend your brand or engage with your website if it fakes engagement with them.

Would you ever automate your relationships with your family and friends? Of course not. Imagine how your family would feel if the only communication they ever received from you was an email auto-responder message whenever they tried to send you their news.

Dear Mum/Dad/sister/aunt Mary, thank you for your message. I am happy to hear you are well / sad to hear about the illness. Yes, we should have lunch/dinner soon. Please select a date and time in the attached online organiser and you'll receive a confirmation email if your selection is accepted.

Yes, ridiculous I know, but isn't that how many online businesses approach their customers? Automated emails and pre-programmed clinical responses delivered by the machine. You can't automate relationships. If your customers want to communicate with your business, they want to really talk to someone human, someone real, someone who won't just read from the company approved script or talk in corporate-speak after every word has been vetted by five departments.

Technology can help you connect with far more people than ever before in increasingly effective ways, but it doesn't remove your responsibility to behave like a human being. (This post originally appeared on Atomik Soapbox)