Looking a customer in the eye

We live in the era of digital giants, which are present in countries we have never heard of and whose revenues often exceed the annual budgets of those countries. Given their widespread influence and their massive economies of scale, can anybody compete wit them? Can an online retailer compete with Amazon? Or can a local car rental company compete with Avis, Hertz or Sixt?

If the smaller players wish to run the same race as their larger competitors, they stand no chance. The behemoths already have a huge head start there. Instead, they ought to look at things that do not scale – such as looking a person in the eye. When we converse with a customer while making eye contact, we forge a connection that with a legacy that is longer than our existence as a species. One cannot produce the same effect while addressing a large mass of customers via automated email.

While planning a holiday to Scotland, we explored two different options for renting cars – the conventional search for a deal on the Avis website, and a local rental agency that a blog post recommended. As one would expect, these experiences were quite different. With Avis, I got to a quote on my own through the website. With the local agency though, I had to actually fill out a form to receive a quote. I thought of this as a burden, but realized its benefits when I received their reply. The email response, which arrived in an hour or so, was clearly written by a human. It pointed out how if we were to reduce our booking duration by an hour, we would save an entire day’s rental fee. The quote was very transparent about their pricing, with clear bullets on what their price included and what it did not. The quote asked for our local addresses to organize convenient pick-up and drop-off points. The company even offered to check if quotes from other companies were accurate and complete.

From the moment we received that email, we stopped comparing prices. We looked up some reviews online for the company, all of which were overwhelmingly positive. Besides, they weren’t just merely star ratings, but descriptive text based reviews with a human touch.

The Scottish travel agency, Celtic Legend, does several things that does not scale. But in the process, they make a human connection with their customers. And that is where the Davids have an edge over the Goliaths.

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