by Jesse Mansfield

I have a favorite local photo and video store in Austin where the customer service is phenomenal called Precision Camera. They have everything a professional photographer and videographer needs including equipment repair, rental, sales and even a studio you can rent out.

But there’s a problem in the photography space. There’s a slew of online stores and YouTubers grabbing up market share as quickly as they can. Almost anything you need to buy can be bought online. Almost anything you need to know can be learned online. Also, it can be done cheaper and from the comfort of your own home.

The High Touch Customer Service Advantage

So why shop at Precision Camera? There’s the obvious hard benefits of equipment repair and rental. You just can’t replicate that as easily online although some have. There’s also the hard benefit of retail sales that allows you to touch and hold different cameras before you buy them.

An adage in retail is that if you can get them to hold it then you can get them to buy it. And it’s true. The psychology of letting someone take physical possession of a product and then taking it away is very powerful and has been demonstrated in studies before.

There’re also the soft benefits of working with people, experts even, who can help a customer problem solve in a very one on one way. Sometimes you can get lost in your do-it-yourself research and fall victim to analysis paralysis.

Sure, expertise is available for free on YouTube but it’s not custom tailored to your needs. That’s what real high touch customer service is; expert advice custom suited to you. It could even be downright wrong depending on the source. However, you must be willing and able to trade your time to search for those answers and come up with your own custom suited solution.

Can you do both High-Touch and Low-Touch Customer Service?

So, can a company have both? Can you have your cake and eat it too? Yes, and you should.

That camera store, Precision Camera, also has an online store. They sell most if not all the same things that others sell. They even have the same prices as everybody else for the most part. Although, if you’re discount shopping you could almost always find a lower price.

And the lower price wins, right? Not necessarily. If you just want to buy a new lens or camera you can go online and buy it. But we’re talking hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable making that decision and purchase with someone who has the ability for high touch customer service?

You might already know what you want and opt for the low-touch online shopping experience, but you still want the ability to have a physical place and staff to go to in case you have questions, or anything goes wrong.

The Perceived High Touch Conundrum

Buying from a reputable, local, and expert company is not only buying the product but also an all-access pass to the people who know best how to use it and fix it. I guess if you wanted to be rude you could buy it online and save a few dollars and show up at the store anyways to get some questions answered. And people do!

At Precision Camera, or any retail store these days, there’s a plague of people going in, using up sales peoples time and the company’s resources to get questions answered and then turning around and buying on Amazon. You can even see them pull out the Amazon price checker app and scanning barcodes!

These people don’t get it and in retail and customer service you’re always going to encounter freeloaders like this. The best you can do is frown on them and go about your business.

Most people don’t behave like this despite what you might think. Most people are willing to pay a little extra to receive the high touch customer service they need when they need it and they’re even willing to pay a higher price for the low touch customer service option, such as online sales to keep that relationship and a bit of insurance in their back pocket.

What we’re doing to answer the challenge

At my company, Print Shoppe, we are mainly a high touch business. We’re not retail but rather a custom manufacturing business providing quotes and products on a case by case basis. We’re the most knowledgeable and hold our customers’ hands through the buying experience from ideation to completion. Where’s our low-touch model?

We’re working on it! Low touch may be easy for the customer but it’s not easy to build. However, it’s worth it.

Many times, our customers don’t need a high level of expertise for certain projects. They need the basics like business cards and stationery, brochures, and booklets. No frills just good product and fast.

For those customers, I had a vision and it’s on its way. I call it the X-Press Line and it’s an online store that gives customers a low-touch and easy buying experience for most of the products they need but with that tacit understanding that if something goes wrong or they need expert advice there’s someone around the corner who will answer the call.

Where’s your business on the customer service scale? Are you heavy on the high touch like us? Then don’t be scared to compete in the low-touch post-Amazon world of online sales. It’s your high touch customer service abilities that just might win your customers over in the end. Even in a low-touch transaction.

P.S. Where do you think the real pros with the big orders and consistent long-term business go? They go to companies like us and Precision Camera for the relationships and professionalism.