Relationships Are Key

If you haven’t seen this in the news, McDonald’s is installing self serve kiosks in all of their restaurants. Recognizing McDonald’s may not be the pinnacle of the customer experience and for all the arguing we heard in the news a while back about people wanting to get paid $15 to flip burgers, this is certainly a great cost-saving measure for McDonald’s that comes with a twist of irony. It also highlights an interesting trend that seems contrary to everything business ought to be.

The backbone of any business is the relationship it has with its customers. Good experiences and interaction for the customers keeps them coming back, and placing them ahead of profits ensures they do so for years to come. Placing profits ahead of customers might mean we make a boatload of cash in a short time frame, but at what price for the long term? Obviously McDonald’s is a huge corporation and the idea that they would make this move without a lot of research and development seems highly unlikely. It also seems unlikely that customers will enjoy being treated with such little regard over the long term. On the other hand, their business model is all about delivering cheap, crappy, over-salted food to customers as fast as they can and perhaps removing part of the human interaction really is the ideal move for them. Time will tell.

To be fair, fast food has never been my business model, but this still feels counter-intuitive to all I believe about business. To get back to the original point, the advent of computers and even more so the internet makes it too easy for us to get sucked into the idea that relationships aren’t as important as they once were. We only need to look at upcoming generations with their permanently bent thumbs over smartphones and tablets to see how these tools can easily separate us when they should be the ultimate tools to pull us together.

The other part of this could have to do with the scale of the product that’s being exchanged;  perhaps a commodity as common as a cheeseburger doesn’t fall under the same rules of building relationships with customers, but a kiosk isn’t likely going to be able to answer questions as fast as a person can, nor are they particularly good at smiling or interpreting the customer’s mood and body language.

As we continue to conduct our own business, let’s take a closer look at how we are interacting with our customers and clients. Do we see them or our products and services as our commodities? Are we actively working to increase trust with our clients and build our relationships with them, or are we just trying to squeeze every last penny out of them that we can?

Obviously we need to make money lest our businesses just become really expensive hobbies, but if we follow the principle that money follows value, we can dramatically improve the customer experience, which in turn boosts our reputation, and the money takes care of itself. It might be a longer game to play, but it’s also more enduring and frankly it’s just the right thing to do.

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