Eight Rude Truths Of Interfacing With Customers In The Digital Age

Jim Blasingame

For the list of “Most Annoying and Pretentious 21st-Century Terms,” surely “Let’s Interface” qualifies.

It’s annoying because it grates against the way most analog humans express connection requests. For example: “Got time for lunch?” “Gimme a call,” “Text me,” or “I’ll email you.”

“Let’s interface” also furrows the brow because it sounds pretentiously geeky, which is oxymoronic since the pretentious are usually not geeks, and geeks are typically not pretentious.

But who says that, anyway? Well, before you look around, indignantly denying you ever did, the answer is …

Rude Truth #1: You say, “Let’s interface,” every day – probably many times a day. And understanding and accepting this truth is one of the keys to small business survival in the post-pandemic, post-analog marketplace. Hold that thought.

The simplest meaning of interface is people merging to communicate and/or work together. To interface in the analog, pre-Internet marketplace, the “face” part was quite literal, as in, face-to-face. But for the past quarter-century, something called digital transformation has been afoot.

To paraphrase Dr. Spencer Johnson (Who Moved My Cheese?), digital transformation has moved your interface. And to paraphrase recent IBM research, the pandemic shutdown has accelerated the next five years of your digital transformation to the here and now. As in, today. Buckle up.

Back to that denial. You’re saying, “Let’s interface,” every time you say, “Go to our website,” because a website is THE interface between digital code and the expectations of the eyes and brain of a customer. And don’t tell me you haven’t said, “Follow us on Twitter” or, “Like us on Facebook” or, “Check out my YouTube channel” or, … well, you get the picture. Your analog message, once delivered face-to-face, must increasingly be digitally-transformed and presented on new interfaces – many different screens – where the only real face in this transaction belongs to a customer with the attention span of a gnat.

Rude Truth #2: You must digitally transform your business operations and marketing. Failing to understand that puts your business on a fast track to joining T-Rex in the Extinction Hall of Fame. Of course, if you’ve been hanging around me for the past 20 years, you already know that. But the Breaking News from the IBM research is that the pandemic has redefined the pace of digital transformation, creating an unprecedented force-multiplier challenge for every small business.

Rude Truth #3: Relevance, relevance, relevance, has replaced location, location, location. In the analog universe, setting up your physical shop to minimize the distance between your physical interface with customers provided an advantage. But in the digital age, when customers interface with your business there’s increasingly only one face there – theirs. And the new interfaces – lots of different screens – have essentially become digital firewalls between you and customers. 

In the third decade of the 21st-century, relevance is the coin of the realm. It’s the new currency customers accept when deciding who to invite through the digital interface firewall to conduct an old-fashioned interface, like a sales call. 

Relevance is anything that helps you earn even a one-second-longer look by a customer at what you’re delivering on their digital interface-of-choice. And in the digitally-transformed marketplace, in what I call “The moment of relevance,” in order to accumulate 60 one-second “looks,” you may have to deliver 59 different pieces of relevance.

Rude Truth #4: The product war is over and you lost – get over it. Successful digital transformation for a small business is not about what you sell. Everything you sell today is a commodity that customers can get in their hands within minutes or hours from a thousand places without stepping out of their bunny slippers.

Rude Truth #5: It’s not your service, either – at least not at first. Okay, it’s conceded that you provide excellent service. But if your digital transformation is too slow, you’ll be ruled out before customers even know you exist, let alone make the acquaintance of your awesome service.

But, there is good news. You possess something unique and compelling that the Big Boxes don’t: the Holy Grail of Main Street – small business special sauce. Once upon a time in the analog marketplace far, far away, customers got close enough to you in the very beginning of their acquisition process to experience – see, hear, even smell – at least some of your special sauce before they made a purchase decision.

The classic small business special sauce recipe takes a product, folds in service, adds the savory of values, the salt of humanity, and then, for good measure, sprinkles a little theater on top. More than a can of paint, new car, dishwasher, or sweater, the real attraction was always a customer’s experience as they interfaced with your special sauce. Which brings us to …

Rude Truth #6:  Customers love their new digital interfaces – the screens. That kind of awesome handy has evolved into learning how to fall in love with your company – or not – without traveling to your location, location, location. Digital transformation means you have to look for love in all the new places.

Rude Truth #7: Whatever digital transformation you’ve accomplished so far, probably isn’t enough. In the post-pandemic, post-analog marketplace, you have to take one more giant, digital leap: earn that 60-seconds by delivering the experience of your three-dimensional, special sauce on a customer’s two-dimensional interfaces – the screens. Like a 59-second video from you. That’s right – the owner.

Rude Truth #8: You can’t out-digitally-transform Amazon. Or Wal-Mart. Or Target. You don’t have enough money. But you can compete – straight up – with your special sauce because they don’t have any of that. And almost as much as they love their new interfaces, customers love special sauce. It’s a powerful vestige of that analog thing.

Three other essential ingredients of your special sauce are, knowing the customer’s name, remembering what they want, and customization. What customers need are commodities – not part of your special sauce. What they want is anywhere from a little bit more to everything – customization. And everybody likes to hear their name.

Like Ama-Wal-Targ, you must accomplish digital transformation. But unlike them, you don’t have to conquer the world to be successful. Congratulations.

Write this on a rock … Small business survival in the post-analog, post-pandemic marketplace requires you to deliver the experience of your special sauce to customers on a digital interface – all of them. Because if you don’t … well …  have you heard of dinosaurs?

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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