Up Closer and More Personal

Human interaction is going the way of dinosaurs. It seems that businesses everywhere are investing in computerized kiosks, smart phones and apps instead of human beings. Learn why this can be a mistake and what you can do instead to build real customer relationships.

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I walk into the newest branch of my credit union, and I am immediately drawn to the design. Lots of open space, thick wood beams surrounded by steel, and lots of light thanks to the plethora of glass. Stunning only begins to describe how it looks. Intimate describes how it feels.

As I approach the teller area, it becomes apparent that there is something different about this space. There is no wall separating tellers from customers. Camille stands in front of her station with a welcoming smile. She extends her hand to greet me and guides me to the table that juts out from the side of her station. I stand at a 90-degree angle to her to start, and she faces me as we engage in conversation.

The side-by-side model design accomplishes an intimate one-on-one customer experience. Also, from my vantage point next to Camille, I face the open-space lobby. My back is not facing a line of people. I can see other customers and the whole of the building. Curious, because I feel connected to the larger communal space and at the same time experience ample privacy to conduct my business with Camille.

I applaud the University of Wisconsin Credit Union ( Their newest design intentionally promotes closeness and intimacy rarely seen in financial services. They’ve taken a page out of other industry’s customer experience playbooks and successfully applied it.

The new design was taking people by surprise… some of them having to adjust to a new way of interacting and conducting business. I say bring more of it on.

We are in an age of rapidly declining human interaction. Look at the fast-food industry, for example. McDonald’s recently went through a massive rebuild and redesign of all of their restaurants. Large screen kiosks welcome you as you enter the lobby. Place your order and either pick it up to go or have your food delivered to your table. In either case, your only interaction with another human being is to say, “thank you” when you get your food.

In these and many other cases, we’re missing out on human interaction. The time is not too distant when I see the pendulum swinging the other way. Kiosks and apps will have an option for users to request human interaction. That’s right; we’ll tap an app for a human to make themselves available for us. Humor me.

On my recent visit to the Gaylord Resort and Conference Center in Denver, I use the Marriott Bonvoy app to check in. Before I arrive, I receive a message that my room is ready and that I can use my phone to unlock my room door. Sure enough, I click on the notification and the screen tells me that room 3311 is ready. I bypass the check-in desk entirely, and before I know it, I am in my hotel room; no human interaction.

How would I rate my customer experience? From an efficiency standpoint, I rate it an A+. The flow and pace of information from making the reservation to arriving in my room was spot on. Guess what was missing, though? I didn’t experience a warm welcome from the front desk. No one asked me how my trip was. There wasn’t a friendly smile asking me if there was anything else I needed. And yes, all of this was my choice.

I can’t go without human interaction; I’m an extrovert after all. And the Denver Marriott Gaylord staff exceeded my expectations in that regard; they delivered exceptional customer service. Everyone with whom I interacted smiled, said hello, and asked how my stay was. I rate the resort and their team as one of the best customer experiences I’ve had.

Back to my credit union story. Yes, I do online banking, and I like having time-saving features to deposit money. However, there are times when it’s more efficient to do things the old-fashioned way, like physically taking a check from the credit union to my business bank. It also allows for old-fashioned human interaction. And I’m glad for it.

Camille likes working for UWCU. Without our interaction, I would not have learned that her company encourages and supports her personal and professional development. I would not have asked her how they do that. And I would not have learned that she and I share a common interest in emotional intelligence.

UW Credit Union’s decision to implement a more intimate customer experience gave Camille and me a chance to learn more about each other. Had I chosen to do business at a branch with the wall between teller and customer, we might not have had this opportunity.

What are you doing to get up close and more personal with customers and clients in your business? I’d love to hear from you about how we can maintain human interaction before we have to request it on an app.

© 2019, Roger Wolkoff. Reprint rights granted so long as all URLs are made live.

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