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Over at the Harvard Business Review’s blog today, I found an interesting entry by Andrew McAfee titled, Do Your Younger Customers Even Like Your Company? that made me think of the parallel challenges facing the real estate industry.

Here is an excerpt:


I had an interesting conversation earlier this week with a very experienced consultant whose company works with many of the largest financial services providers in the world — the banks, funds, and insurance companies we’ve all heard of. He told me that a lot of them were noticing the same disturbing trend: their younger customers really didn’t like them.

Across a lot of these companies, there’s a dominant model for how to interact with customers around big-ticket events like buying life insurance, setting up a brokerage account, saving for college or retirement, and so on. The model involves initial recommendations from the company, often delivered in face-to-face meetings, sporadic follow-ups, and more frequent and routine transactions (making deposits, paying bills, etc.) that nowadays often happen online.

Now this sounds remarkably familiar, doesn’t it? McAfee goes on….

What’s so bad about this? In the eyes of digital native customers, a few things. The initial recommendations are seen as untrustworthy, since they come from someone who’s likely to be more interested in maximizing personal or corporate income rather than customer well-being. The meetings and phone calls around these recs are intrusive and inconvenient, and the documents impenetrable. And the associated websites are clunky; it’s harder than it needs to be to execute processes and transactions, find basic information, and get questions answered. In short, the human interactions seem to date from the Eisenhower administration, and the online ones from 1996.

McAfee goes on to say that customers work with these companies even though they don’t like to, because the companies control access to the desired product or service. But he challenges us to consider if that’s the best business model: control access, or better experience. Plus, he notes, the digital viewpoint is spreading, to all generations hopping on the Facebook-iPad-smartphone information management nexus,which will create an opportunity for companies who move swiftly to adopt their customers’ viewpoint to mop up from companies that do not part from their legacy systems, including intransigent employees, fast enough.

For me, the most interesting part of the piece isn’t the usual “stress” upon technology itself, often interpreted as the “thing” modern customers want, but the trust and likeability factor between customers and these companies. The insight is that the purpose of innovation isn’t just to reduce paperwork or speed up the transaction, but to convey to the consumer that you have their best interests at heart, that you speak their language, and that you wish to earn their trust by being transparent. Most of all, McAfee notes that the human interactions need to progress from the ways things were done back in “Eisenhower’s days” alongside the improvements in technology process, which we often put more resources into updating or adopting.

We’ve been challenging our clients to think about the process, not just the tools, for years. For example, no amount of tweeting is going to get Gen X consumers to attend an open house if you’re still scheduling them for Sundays (as in the 1960s). It’s not that the customer doesn’t know about your open houses; it’s that they fall on an inconvenient day of the week – one that hasn’t been convenient for many people since the days of  Laverne and Shirley.

The industry is ripe for process changes, not just increasing the speed of the traditionalist model.

How well is your company updating it’s likability with consumers, by improving the process side of your business, not just adopting the latest gadgets?