A spontaneous approach usually links “hi touch” to face-to-face relationship, as opposed to “lo touch”, which refers to virtual, on-line interaction: “Brick & Mortar” retail vs. Internet sales, meeting room vs. Web conference, on-site learning vs. e-learning…
However, we very often observe that both worlds are complementary:
- I share a beer with friends at the Pub while continuously checking texts on my Smartphone;
- I buy a product at the e-shop but ask to be delivered at the shop around the corner;
- I send an e-mail at the collaborator which is located two doors near my desk… then I pop-in to comment his answer or to ask why he did not answer to me;
- I read comments on Trip Advisor while at the same time asking directly to a friend what he/she thinks about that hotel;
- I work at home as a freelance thanks to on-line tools… but I love to sit in a Starbucks Coffee to enjoy a social environment which stimulates my creativity;
- When one answers at the phone “We are currently extremely busy, just send us a memo and we will reply to you”, is this a “hi touch” relationship?
- A CEO who gives a speech in front of 2 000 collaborators, is this a “hi touch” relationship?
- When people reciprocally insult themselves on a virtual forum or blog, is this really a “lo touch” relationship?
- Bullying between teens on Facebook, is this a “lo touch” relationship?
- LinkedIn is a good illustration of that complexity: one can find lots of personal information, which transform a lo touch relationship into a hi touch one;
The concept of hi touch / lo touch cannot be reduced to Real / Virtual, it is more subtle as it manages drivers such as emotion, complexity, trust, and productivity.
When a relationship needs trust and emotions, or requires the understanding of highly complex matters, or is potentially leading to conflicting situations, then it must be managed in a “Real” environment.
When tasks are not complex, or could be done on a repetitive basis, require very few emotional interactions, or when trust between Parties has already been established, then a “Virtual” environment helps to improve productivity and efficiency.
As an illustration, this chart shows how to manage the annual assessment and bonus negotiation of a collaborator, depending on its specificities. From virtual lo touch to real hi touch, each situation corresponds to a different environment: an assessment without conflicting issues can efficiently be managed through a lo touch process (on-line template to be filled by both Parties, who might also briefly exchange on a face-to-face basis). On the contrary, if both Parties strongly disagree on the assessment, then the process can be resolved only in a “Real World”, face-to-face interaction is necessary to manage the high emotional factor.
Inappropriate use of hi touch or lo touch can lead to a significant lack of efficiency:
- Inability to foster the life of a collaborative platform without a “Real World” kick-off meeting. Why? Need to trust each other, to know each other, to be sure that the expected deliverables, if complex, have been well understood…;
- Collaborative tools (such as Webex, platforms for communities…) fail when the discussed matters are complex or require emotional interaction;
- E-mail flows between collaborators are saturated, as 30 to 40% of them are just documents sharing (a lo touch shared e-library would be sufficient), and another 30% look like non-sense dialogs on complex matters (with the usual “Reply all” option…) that would have needed an initial face-to-face explanation;
On the other hand, there are examples of winning businesses that perfectly manage the balance between hi and lo touch. Two illustrations:
- Ikea, whose process can be described as globally lo touch, though proposing specific hi touch services for complex products such as the installation of complete home kitchens,
- Apple who regards hi touch (the Apple stores) as a capital expenditure aimed at providing ROI through its lo touch products (the download of Apps).
One can also imagine blended models, such as “virtual” meetings between “clusters” where people gather in a “real” meeting room (most appropriate model for remote relationships between communities in a multinational company).
To conclude, a precise assessment of complexity and emotion level should drive the interaction strategy. A right or wrong balance between hi and lo touch will impact efficiency and productivity in many fields: learning, information sharing, collaborative processes, customer service, relationship between managers and collaborators,…