Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Why old-school communication could work in your favour

Online search engines are useful, but speaking to people directly can often achieve better results

The Four Seasons Hotel in Kona, Hawaii. Relying on travel comparison sites may not always get you the best deal. Courtesy Four Seasons
The Four Seasons Hotel in Kona, Hawaii. Relying on travel comparison sites may not always get you the best deal. Courtesy Four Seasons

When a friend visited from Bahrain last year, I was surprised to see that she had her ticket printed and folded inside a travel agency envelope.

I told her that I couldn’t remember the last time I booked my ticket through a travel agent and asked why she didn’t book her flights online? She told me that she always receives better deals through her agent, especially as she has dealt with that agency for years. Another friend confirmed this when she told me that her travel agent arranged round-trip business class tickets for her to the United States for less than Dh10,000.

I wondered if all of these virtual transactions I’ve been conducting online have been depriving me from great deals that could come as a result of old-school human interaction? So I put it to the test.

As I planned my latest trip to the United States, I looked at the rates of the hotel I wanted to stay at on different booking websites. I then contacted the hotel directly and spoke to their reservation agent. I asked her if they would be able to give me a better rate than the one I saw on different booking websites. She gave me a slightly better deal with a complimentary breakfast.

Although the hotel I chose offers a mobile check-in, I decided to go to the check-in desk and ask the front desk manager if it was possible to upgrade to a bigger room with the same rate I was given (a tip my friend gave me). After checking through her system for a couple of minutes, the front desk manager provided me with a complimentary upgrade to a larger corner room with a nicer view.

I also tested this with the car leasing company that I wanted to hire a car and a driver through. I called and asked to speak to the driver, who happens to be the co-owner of the company. A few minutes on the phone later, we got a discounted rate and we became friends with their family.

When it comes to travelling, I mostly conduct my bookings online. My last trip not only made me realise how much I miss human interaction when it comes to bookings, it also saved me hundreds of dollars. I wondered how much I could have saved over the past few years had I opted to do things the old way?

In business, more and more companies are promising seamless, AI-powered online solutions, where you can have groceries, furniture, and anything else delivered free of any human interaction. You could walk in and out of McDonald’s without the need to speak to anyone. The same with Amazon’s cashier-less Amazon Go convenience store. But is that necessarily better? Are we better off personally and financially without having to speak to anyone?

A survey of 15,000 people from around the world by PwC found that people favour human interactions over digital ones. Only 3 per cent of US customers want to have their experiences as fully automated as possible. According to the study, most of the customers surveyed say they want more human interaction in the future.

I’m personally not against technological improvements and AI-powered solutions, I just believe strongly that in business we need to value and continue to enhance customer experiences. Many regional Instagram-based fashion businesses, for instance, state that they do not accept calls, or any forms of communication, and only accept WhatsApp messages or those sent through the direct messaging option, which I found completely unprofessional. How am I to deal with you or ask about a product if there is no other form of communication than WhatsApp messages, through which many customers complain about delayed responses. The same study by PwC highlights that one in three customers would walk away from a brand they love after one bad experience.

Investing in personal interaction and enhancing customer experiences isn’t hard and won't cost you much. It’s a simple mixture of a fast response rate, convenience, and friendliness that could land you recurring, loyal customers.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: August 17, 2019 12:20 PM

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