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People never get old on the Internet

I have been working in the Internet industry in some form or another for a total of seven years now. I have been in sales on the hosting side, sold commercial Internet connectivity, sold services from the VAR side, partnered in an Internet marketing agency and now I consult and write. I’ve seen a lot in the industry from the Fortune 50 clients to the local optician’s office. I have a lot of “been there, done that” in me as it relates to the Internet.

Lego People

Image by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

I have noticed that there is one very old-fashioned common denominator that runs across all of those experiences. I use this “theme” to define whether the online-initiated experience was good or not. It’s not about technology. It’s not about process. It’s not about delivery. It’s about people. While the Internet is connection of networks, it’s more
importantly a Web of people. Real people.
I had a great experience today. I helped connect a person with a need to a service that met the need, and it resulted in a happy client. Happy enough, in fact, that they wanted to make things easy by paying for their year’s service in advance. Now that kind of thinking is wonderful to hear in this day and age. As a result, I was faced with a choice at this time. I could offer them the special year discount or simply just ignore it because they were going to buy anyway. My sales instincts told me to not say anything but the stronger part of me won out because it was the right thing to do. They were very happy and I think the money they saved was given back to me in goodwill for the future. I then spoke with their accounts payable person, who was having trouble making the payment, and she was just a genuinely nice person.
“What’s the point?” you ask. While the only reason we were speaking was due to the Internet, the experience was very cool because of the people. The Internet was the means to an end. The end being interaction with good people for the right reasons.
That’s what never goes out of style. I would even offer that as we become more sophisticated on the Internet technologically, that the people part of the equation is going to become more, rather than less, important. In the hard goods manufacturing sector, technology replaces people while with the Internet it forces people to the forefront to perform. The Internet business is a service business. The human side of the Internet helps to humanize a company that has been reached in an inhuman way. It takes the edge off the anonymity. It serves to make someone feel good about doing business with you. Technology can’t do that. Technology is just a means to an end. A human end.
Never before in the history of commerce has there been a greater chance to differentiate yourself from the competition through the basic human tenets of human decency, respect, and desire to be of service. What the technology removes, or possibly dehumanizes at times, needs to be replaced by people in order to be most effective. Companies that get this, like Comcast, are going to crush their competition. I feel supremely confident of that. Even Google is learning that slowly but surely. There are now people who can be reached to actually talk to at Google. Of course, that is not perfect and never will be, but neither are people.
So what’s the takeaway? Never stop concentrating on the human side of your business, no matter how techy or geeky your company is. If you are too heavily weighted on the geek side of the equation you will be viewed as less accessible. Less accessibility in today’s world means less interaction, which may lead to less business. We can automate the heck out of everything, but if there isn’t a person to speak to about a problem or a success, the long-term viability of the customer is diminished very quickly. So, no matter how cool your Internet business is, you better not think you are too cool for people. You might still make a living but it won’t make a life.

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