Common wisdom says businesses can either provide personal service or create scalable systems. In the old days, that was true. Small businesses couldn’t scale without becoming impersonal — and big companies couldn’t keep up with the volume if they wanted to improve service. Fortunately, times have changed.
Today’s businesses can get the best of both worlds by using better tools to improve service in scalable ways. Customers get the personalized human experiences they deserve, while businesses enjoy the freedom to grow without selling out in the process.
Check out how these industries found the balance between big business and individual connections:
The internet disrupted just about every industry, but two particular areas suffered: entertainment and travel. Once people could stream movies, no one needed Blockbuster. When everyone was able to book vacations online, traditional travel agents got the cold shoulder.
Thanks to the overwhelming number of choices online, however, travelers have started to put new stock in personalized recommendations. Online travel agencies (OTAs) use technologies like machine learning to match travelers with destinations and deals that align with their interests.
Mahesh Chaddah, co-founder of OTA Reservations.com, suggests the industry is at risk of over-automation. In his experience, today’s travelers want the efficiency of online booking but prefer more curated travel experiences — ones that usually require human help to coordinate. To attract and accommodate this savvy group, Reservations.com leverages a balanced approach: AI and advanced technology to provide personalized recommendations online based on behavior alongside a live concierge planning service with 24-hour phone assistance to provide a human touch.
2. Personal Finance
Big banks and personalized care don’t often go together. Wells Fargo continues to suffer the consequences of its 2016 account fraud scandal. People deal with the heavy hitters in finance out of necessity, but they don’t trust them.
In response to growing concerns over data, privacy, and security, many people are turning to smaller credit unions and local options. Consumers enjoy the personal relationships and non-corporate appeal of smaller options. Big banks have taken notice, however, and have turned to technology to win back customers.
Bank of America’s AI assistant made a strong debut last year, acquiring more than a million users in its first three months. The new tool, named Erica, helps customers with transaction searches, financial literacy questions, budgeting, and more. Users can talk to Erica via voice or text, which is a big boon in an increasingly voice search-driven world.
Smaller banks won’t go quietly, though. Just as big financial institutions turn to technology for personalization, local banks and fintech startups are working hard to scale their operations without losing their charm. Personal finance app and AI assistant Olivia, for instance, recently debuted a host of new features to attract new users. Growing banks are partnering with growing fintech companies like Olivia to match the big-budget services the powerhouses provide.
3. Retail and Online Sales
Few industries match the sheer volume of touchpoints that retail offers. Customers deal with salespeople, cashiers, customer service reps, managers, and more, all in the name of good prices and experiences. Small-town shops pride themselves on their mom-and-pop vibes, while massive chains have powerful logistics on their side.
Customers, however, are picky. They want family-owned shops with megastore capabilities and corporations that understand their personal needs. The biggest players in retail see automation as the most effective path toward personalization at scale.
“AI is revolutionizing the retail industry by making it cost-effective to deliver a completely personalized, immersive and optimized experience for every individual consumer at a massive scale,” says Daniel Druker, CMO of Instart.
Smaller stores, meanwhile, might be more interested in the optimization of back-end processes to match their existing charm.
“SMBs will save money by avoiding the wasted cost of failed marketing efforts like poor performing ads, lazy personalization, misunderstanding audiences and who needs what ads and the like,” says Kris Barton, chief product officer at Gannett. “They will also save time, finally finding an efficient and cost-effective strategy to collect and analyze data from different silos and move quickly to make better decisions.”
The faster technological innovation accelerates, the smaller the divide between the tech-driven giants and the high-touch shops becomes. Both sides have ample opportunities to gain ground on the other. The new question: Which companies will make the right moves within these industries to give customers what they want?