Creating Digital Intimacy with Your Customer
Customer centric companies inherently understand the importance of knowing their customers by doing the right research at the right time, and finding innovative ways to give customers what they want when they want it. In an era of eBills, robocalls and customer service phone trees, companies have to balance the desire to nurture the customer relationship with the challenge of managing costs through technology.
Rather than viewing technology as a tool for keeping the customer out of the way, technology can actually get us closer to the customer efficiently and meaningfully if we think about it the right way. Enter the concept of digital intimacy.
What creates intimacy in a relationship? When we experience intimacy in our personal lives, a few dynamics are at work. We refer to them as "T.A.R.A.".
Trust. Trust is the foundation to an intimate relationship. When we trust someone, we have an unspoken agreement to protect each other's interests. Trust means what we have is special, and that our experiences with each other are unique to us. We will not share with others what passes between us.
Authenticity. In relationships, both parties can be who they really are without fear of rejection. We can communicate with one another freely without fear of saying or doing the "wrong thing". We know we will be accepted and honored for who we are, however we show up on any given day.
Reliability. Reliability means we make all efforts to come through in the relationship. We know we can count on each other. We don't have to ask did you take care of that thing for me yesterday because we already know. We consistently deliver for each other.
Access. Having mutual access to each other is another important ingredient in an intimate relationship. Even when we are busy, we take each other's call when the call comes in. We take the time to send the just checking in text. We might modify our day to be there for each other if there is a moment of need. By allowing access to each other, we demonstrate you matter that much to me.
So how does "T.A.R.A." translate to our customer relationships?
Trust is, in essence, your brand. It is how you present yourself in the marketplace when you tell the world who you are, how you do business, and how you will be there for them when they need you.
When communicating this in a digital channel such as emails, eBill, or social media, there is a necessary pause we must take and ask ourselves, how would I want to hear this if I was receiving this message from someone I am in a relationship with? This goes beyond making sure the customer's first name is mail-merged into code. It is ensuring the customer communication we put in the queue do not read like a transactional fact dump, but instead has an undertone of caring. A few extra heart-centered words can go a long way. That said, you have three options in your approach:
Black Box Approach: No acknowledgement that a payment was made.
Transactional Approach: An email that says "Your payment for $177.17 was received on 4/18/17. Your next payment is due on 5/18/17."
Heart-Centered Approach: A text that says "Thank you for being a customer! We received your payment for $177.17 today. Your next payment is due on 5/18/17. How else can we be of service?"
Note that the heart-centered version of the payment verification shows appreciation for the customer, and welcomes a dialogue. Inside-out design would say do not invite in a dialogue because you don't want customers to call. The reality is, they rarely will call if you take the time to humanize the interaction. The goodwill you foster by asking what else the customer needs is invaluable in forming an intimate bond with your customer.
Authenticity is about how every interaction is brought to life in the company... from the person that programs the digital experience to the person who answers the phone when a customer calls for support. Being authentic goes beyond doing the task and checking the box, it is about how you leave a customer feeling during and after the interaction.
Here is a short story. Once upon a time, a company required representatives from marketing, legal, regulatory, accounting, compliance and product to craft customer communications. Each representative had their own agenda for the communication, and all were equally important. However, beyond we have to tell the customer something, there was no common view for the tone and desired outcome of the communication. The end result was a series of communications that were perceived by customers as disjointed and unclear. The result? About half of all customers who received these communications contacted the company with questions.
It reminded me of an orchestra of talented professionals but without a conductor to set the tone, tempo and emotional direction of the effort.
There was a clear opportunity for improvement. Since all representatives needed to participate in the process, the process itself could not change. However, they discovered the importance of figuratively inviting the customer to the table. The outcome they wanted was for the customer to understand the message the first time, and feel good about the communication. When this ah-ha moment happened, the customer became the conductor of the orchestra and suddenly each communication became a symphony. When marketing, legal, regulatory, accounting, compliance and product all put on their customer-colored glasses, they discovered a common ground for creating clear, compassionate and effective communications the first time. The result? They nailed it, and the follow up calls subsided. It was a win-win for everyone.
Reliability, in the corporate world, feels like table stakes. We go to great lengths to have systems and processes in place so everyone works from the same playbook on how to get the job done consistently. Customers want to know what to expect, and count on us to deliver every time.
When we bring this to life in a digital environment, we depend on technology. While technology is arguably more reliable than human capital, there are occasional failure points. System upgrades, server outages, and software incompatibilities are things that can cause digital misfires from time to time. When it impacts the customer, we need front line employees ready to make it right. We need to have contingency plans in place and proactive outbound communications prepared to mitigate all levels of damage.
Customers are actually quite forgiving when companies have an occasional failure point. The key is owning up to it, and making a clear reparation. We cannot rely on technology alone when it comes to reliability because tech does fail at times. If we are prepared for this and have a plan in place for misfires, we demonstrate we are reliable even in the extreme cases when things go wrong. And that seals the deal.
Access to you can ultimately make or break the relationship with your customer. Even if you get trust, authenticity and reliability right, not being reachable when your customer needs you most will leave a mark.
The customer of today wants to reach you when they want, where they want and how they want. While many of us with our business hats on see texting as a personal, not business tool, customers do not bifurcate their life and time that way. They weave in and out of interacting with friends and transacting business all day, every day. We need not only to enable but to invite customers to access us any way they wish. Nowadays, texting is king. It's fast. It's concise. It's super efficient. And to boot, it saves money.
Here is a great example of access. I recently purchased a web domain and email address for Experience Design International. I realized at 9pm last night that my iPhone wouldn't synch with the new email address. I happen to have the personal cell phone number of the owner of Universal Connectivity, my telecommunications platform service provider. I sent a text asking James, the CEO, if he could help. He replied in moments and three clicks later, I was all set. My expectation was he would get back to me in the morning but instead, he was on it immediately. He provided access and on-demand service. He exceeded my expectations in that moment which made me say this is what a meaningful customer relationship is all about.
While giving out the cell phone number of every CEO out there is not the idea here, it does beg the question how hard would it really be to have a tech service-on-demand so customers can access us 24/7? The instrumentation is a lot easier, even in a big company, than you think. Doing so makes customers feel special, thus fosters that feeling of intimacy that will never come if you deny your customers access to you during nights and weekends.
The net-net here is there is a deeper level to customer-centricity. We can create intimacy and loyalty in our relationships with customers. And digital intimacy can be a thing. It requires us to invite the customer to the table when we are designing experiences and communications, and deciding to use digital tools to deepen our tie to the customer rather than using them to keep the customer out.
It all starts with changing the script from "how can we reduce customer calls" to "how can leverage technology to improve Trust, Authenticity, Reliability and Access"?
The outcome is the same. But it is the how we get there that will be special.