Does Being Personal in Business Actually Matter?
Who would you rather work with: the gargantuan company that owns everyone else, or the mom and pop corner shop? Honestly, who would you rather work with? There's pros and cons to both. The giant corporation definitely knows what they're doing, but you'll probably be treated like a number instead of a person. Mom and Pop will treat you like one of their own, but they're severely limited by comparison. People want to make a bid deal about remaining incredibly personal no matter how big or small your organization is. But, honestly, how much does being personal in business actually matter?
Being personal is amazingly expensive and time consuming. A great case study is Zappos, who's known for focusing on customer service above all else. There's a fan favorite story of a Zappos customer service representative spending over 10 hours on the phone with one customer. That phone call cost more than whatever the customer was spending! Is that great customer support or a poor business decision?
It depends on who you ask. For Zappos, that's exactly what you're supposed to do. If you're a logistics company like UPS, whose success is based on efficiency, you'd be fired before that call ended. Is one better than the other, or is it simply different focuses?
Think of how many (large) enterprises automate as much consumer interaction as they can. Clearly they have a good reason for it. They wouldn't do it if they thought it was bad for business. Smaller companies will often look to emulate larger companies. Should they? There are so many questions surrounding this topic, it's almost impossible to discern a black and white answer.
All things being equal, people would rather work with someone they can have a relationship with. Why else would politicians shake as many hands as they can find? It'd be far cheaper - far more efficient - to campaign digitally. All other things equal, being personal is a crucial distinguishing factor for a business. It's so monumental, in fact, that smaller stores use it as their edge to sway clients from using larger, (often) more capable organizations.
There's no question that if you put money towards being personal, it's going to pay off. But does it pay off quickly enough or well enough? That depends on you, and how you use what resources are available. Is spending company dollars on being personal going to pay more than spending it elsewhere? Maybe. There's two question you need to answer first.
Do you have (or hope to have) repeat transactions with any of your customers? If so, then it makes sense to treat them as well as you can, which includes personalization of: communication, promotions and discounts, and recommendations. There's always going to be a better deal or new feature somewhere else, but customers will stay with you if they're treated like friends and family. If repeat business (monthly subscriptions, multiple purchases, etc.) doesn't matter for your operation, then you also need to answer question number two.
A business can offer a great experience without being very personal. By and large, this is why so many massive companies still exist (along with scalability, market share, etc.). It might be more difficult, but it's certainly possible. If your customer experience is so great that it brings in referrals without being personal, then maybe it doesn't matter for you. Otherwise, which is more important: making more money, or having your customers think more highly of you?
These two don't have to be exclusive, but people tend to put their money where they're priorities are, and the rest doesn't line up. If you care more about making money, you'll put more dollars towards sales. If you care more about company admiration, you'll place more money towards customer service and (maybe) user experience.
Personally, I see more prosperity when an organization puts customers first, where being personal seeps into every aspect of the business. If you go to a hotel, would you rather be treated with smiles and respect, or moved through the line "efficiently"? When choosing an accountant, would you rather go with a giant conglomerate, or the local business who values you as a person? If being personal is your focus, I'm far more likely to recommend you to others.
Plus, word of mouth (personal recommendations and reviews) is one of the largest contributing factors to whether someone purchases. Couple this with the cost of acquiring a new customer. It's generally 6-7x higher than whatever it costs to keep one current customer happy. Of course, being personal with customers goes hand in hand with keeping them happy.
One last case study that I think paints a great example is Gary Vee. If you're not familiar with the man, you can check him out here. I alternate between loving and hating the man, but there's no denying he's done very well. Watching him over the years, his key to success has been adding value on a very personal level.
When he's hired to speak, he instead does a Q&A with the audience. He connects with each person individually, and specifically helps them with whatever they're dealing with. Every answer equals loyalty from the person asking the question. He does the same thing with his #AskGaryVee show, where he fields questions asked to him on Twitter. Gary, his marketing agency VaynerMedia, and the plethora of companies he's invested in, all grow in part because he spends so much of his time being personal.
Being personal, in many cases, is the hidden secret to explosive growth. You can analyze your budgets and ROIs all day, but people would rather give money to brands they can have legitimate conversations with. Nobody wants to deal with a business whose operation screams "I don't care about customers, just our bottom line." Does being personal in business actually matter? It's paramount.