Have You Got the Balance Right?  Using Technology V Personal Interaction

A Woman Balancing

We live in the truly exciting age of technology; I just love it (and it keeps on evolving!). So anyone that doesn’t use at least some of the technology available will no doubt get left behind at some point.  But, sometimes, technology doesn’t lend itself to an activity, let me explain what I mean.

Just this morning, I was wondering why it is that before they “sign on the dotted line” (digitally of course!) many people still want a conversation with a real person?  I find that doing everything online is far more efficient, perhaps you don’t agree with me. Maybe I’m just used to doing pretty much everything online – but I don’t represent everyone, of course.  Some people need help with getting to grips with new technology, or they don’t yet trust it completely, so they’ll want to speak to someone before they sign-up.  

We are about real people

The other school of thought is that some people just miss that person-to-person contact.  Are we therefore, in danger of losing the art of conversation if everything does move over to online?  That got me thinking about my business, Interface. Only a few years ago, Interface was very much a close contact business and while it absolutely focusses on our customers, it’s evolved a great deal over the past couple of years.  We’ve moved so much online, pretty much everything, but I wonder if it’s alienated some people. I hope not, because we’re still there, at the end of a Zoom or on the phone. I’m also hopeful that perhaps we’ve got the balance right.

A couple of years ago, we spent time and money implementing an automated advice system (often referred to as robo-advice) on our website. Using this system, clients can invest money at an extremely low cost, the system takes about ten minutes to complete, and clients do not have to speak to anyone or pay advice fees.

We have mentioned our automated advice system to our clients in newsletters and we’ve posted it about it quite a lot using our social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere. What has amazed us it that clients go all the way through the system and then it comes to the part where they must part with money. At that point they pick up the phone!  Don’t get me wrong, we love speaking to our clients.  We really enjoy the interaction and our business’ foundations are built on growing relationships.  We just thought that our automated advice system would make their lives quicker and easier.  Perhaps it’s just people getting used to new technology.

We’re At the Forefront of New Tech!

Our booking system is an example of where we feel we’ve got it right and I pride myself that Interface Financial Planning is at the forefront in the use of technology.  The booking system is one example, and so is our clients’ online account system. However, so much focus has been placed on developing our technology that perhaps we have overlooked the importance of real conversations. On the positive, we know that we have now got the technology side well and truly sorted and we’re more advanced (and probably better than) 90% of the financial adviser firms out there. Now we’ve done that, we’re going to use the extra time it’s given us to focus on getting back to real conversations. I’m hopeful that all the technical stuff can be done online and remotely giving us even more time to talk about things that matter. Why does getting personal matter? I’ll tell you.

Sometimes Personal Contact is Best

While companies are busy harnessing technology to move us all into an online world, some things are just better face to face.  I’ll give you an example that drives me mad!  Chatbots.  Have you ever wanted to ask a question or chase up a missing delivery from a company using their online tools?  You click on the “Chat now” button and get a robot answering you.  Every time you type something in, you get an option that’s not what you want and you long to chat to a human being … it takes up time, it’s frustrating and good luck to you if you get hold of someone!  It often puts me off using the said company again.

There is more to communication than seeing each other on Zoom. Being together in the same room and ‘breathing the same air’ engenders trust which is such an essential element of financial advice. While our robot advice does work and our online accounts’ system is brilliant, as is our booking an appointment service – we still want to give that personalised advice that no technology can compare with.  Computers don’t know us, they can’t build a rapport or relationship, they can’t empathise, be kind, or inject humour into conversations, no matter how finely tuned their coding!  That word relationship is so important and for my style of financial planning, it’s at the very core of what Interface does. 

There is another aspect to mention and that’s demographic.  People over the age of 60 really value personal contact and I looked at some research that told me that Baby Boomers and Millennials enjoy using and rely on mobile apps, but they also prefer face-to-face.  However, GenZ are so comfortable with technology that they expect to do almost everything they can online!  No doubt as the years roll by, Interface will evolve to communicate with that audience slightly differently.

Mixing Up Personal Contact with Technology

I believe that nowadays, businesses need to use a blend of technology and personal contact.  Zoom is a great example, it uses technology, so people don’t need to meet face-to-face but still allows for individual contact.  In our experience, it’s extremely successful and as I’ve said before, gives me much more time to fit in my clients because I’m not running around the country from one meeting to the next.  I’m determined to get the balance between technology and personal contact and offer both a digital and a human experience.  The financial information on my website is already available 24/7 across multiple devices and platforms.  Whenever a client needs individual contact or assistance, we’re there to help (no Chatbots for us!).  

I believe our clients like accessing both the technology we’ve made available to them and us, although I have to keep checking that we’re getting that balance right and I’ll continue to monitor it.  I want all of our clients to know that we are always there for them if they need us. 

As I said before, Interface is streets ahead of most financial advisers when it comes to offering both technology and the personal touch.  I believe that to survive, the financial advisers that aren’t using technology to their advantage have to take the bull by the horns and learn how to use it if they want to remain relevant.  Technology shouldn’t be seen as a threat but as an opportunity…. however, it’s very much about balancing the two.  If you’re an existing Interface client, I’d be interested to know if you think we strike the right balance?  Do let me know.

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