By Andy Marken
Everyone, everything wants to be liked, even loved ... including companies and brands.
Being a big cold-hearted, calloused thing that churns out stuff expecting you to buy it until the next thing they churn out and expect you to buy just isn't working anymore.
In the constantly connected, always-on world, the approach no longer wins friends or customers.
People have too many ways to express themselves and ordinary folks are listening, agreeing, disagreeing.
Just engaging real people worked for a little while; being social with them sorta', kinda' worked and being big just isn't enough.
So now it's time to humanize the company. You know; distance it from the competition and be more personable; more real like you and me.
That ad space is getting so crowded that now we're seeing some say (in so many words) – "we invented human" or "we're more human than they are."
I doubt if any of them invented human; but if they did, I'm going to darn well buy whatever they're selling.
Or, if you lay claim to the position that you're more human, then why tell me you are now introducing a (name here) killer...
Not a really cool human activity.
Both approaches sorta' make me feel a little dubious.
But as the agency Hill Holiday recently pointed out in a white paper, there are companies that are breaking down the corporate walls, leveling the organization and empowering/encouraging employees to act as humans rather than policy distributors/enforcers.
According to the study, "The most admired brands and organizations have become flatter and less centralized. They listen to the world around them and are open to social influence. They use data to organize their capabilities around an individual's needs, rather than the other way around. In short, the most successful companies have recognized that 'fortress' behavior is no longer an effective approach to interacting with customers or communities."
The toughest part of humanizing a company isn't just setting/dictating a new policy or a new program. It's getting everyone in the organization to believe that they are real people who can make a meaningful, valuable contribution to the company/brand and the customer.
Employees have to embrace it, not just by a new campaign but by day-to-day actions by themselves and others in the organization.
It's all about leading the team by example.
It's not easy to "believe" the company/brand is human when:
- Your email campaign to my inbox uses "do not reply" addresses.
- Your customer support/customer service folks get bonus points for the volume of calls they "handle."
- After I come into your store (brick n' mortar or ecommerce) and tell you what I need and why, you recommend the solution with the highest profit margin rather than one that's the best value or say you don't have it but have something that's just as good or almost as good.
- Your customer support people have a script they follow and any question/issue outside of that they can't or aren't authorized to handle.
- Your boss and sales people have well-scripted presentations ... that's it.
- I happen to get a real person who isn't in customer support and they politely say "no my yob mon."
- You find it difficult – prohibited – to say, "I'm sorry, we made a mistake."
- Someone reaches out to you with a question or idea by email or on one of your social media routes and they are simply not acknowledged, answered.
That sends a helluva' human message!
OMG – Developing a marketing/communications strategy that you promote to the world is a move in the right direction. However, actions speak louder than words.
SugarCRM, a customer relations management (CRM) company, recently released a report that said people were frustrated with companies they dealt with because of poor or inadequate service and support.
It was so bad that 50 percent of the folks said that because of the encounter, they didn't buy product/service there again.
Tough Job, Teamwork
Let me say right here that customer service/support is a tough freakin' job and in today's connected world, they shouldn't be singled out as the problem but rather the symptom.
In their job, the minute the person picks up the phone or reads the email, tweet or Facebook post he/she knows you're irritated or confused.
That's because they know the person on the other end is supposed to have the answer ... the right answer, right now!
Folks who like to call themselves social media experts are inclined to tell you that they have the magic key, the tools for creating a one-to-one relationship with customers. The problem is people really don't want to have an engagement/ relationship with your company, your brand. It's just a company, a brand; not a member of their family, their circle of friends and not someone I work with or associate with.
So get over it. People want answers.
Talk to Me
But it is possible to humanize that company/brand throughout the organization providing you're willing to do the impossible ... listen!
Say What? – It sounds like an over simplification but if you want to develop a sound relationship with customers, you have to do something that may be strange for people used to sending out social media blasts to the world – listen. Consumers are anxious to talk with companies/brands but they don't want to be talked at. The best conversation starts with tell me ... then shutting up.
Then do something about it.
Sounds simple but obviously, it's tough to do because according to a Forrester Research study:
- 71 percent of the Tweets go unanswered
- 95 percent of the Facebook posted queries fail to get a response or worse yet, if they were negative ... removed
- 75 percent of the email requests received a form "thank you for your interest" response, vowing to get you the answer and up to five days later ... zip, zero, nada
It's only human that people like to be listened to, acknowledged.
In many instances, the acknowledgement of the individual and his/her issue does more to tie the person to the company/the brand than the actual resolution.
It surprises me that more companies don't have an open forum on their websites or Facebook brand pages for customers to talk with customers about problems, issues, questions, applications.
My wife is a whiz at finding and using customer forums to find people who have had the same issue and how they have solved it.
It works for several reasons:
- People really know that not everything works perfectly all of the time; and knowing someone else had the same issue makes you feel better (the whatever it is isn't picking just on you).
- Humans like to solve challenges themselves because it is a real sense of empowerment, accomplishment.
- Humans really do like to help others because it makes them feel good and that they have made a contribution, made a difference.
End the Silos
Most companies have one of three types of social media efforts with customers:
- Business employees are kept separate from customers because "those" people belong to the sales and/or customer support staffs.
- Employees who accidentally interact/engage with a customer are required to immediately direct him/her to the appropriate company department.
- Company/brand folks throughout the organization are able to/encouraged to engage with customers, assisting them where possible and if not, getting the person to the team member who can help and then follow up to make certain the question/issue was answered.
Think about it.
The brands and companies you admire/respect and want to associate with are those that don't live by an organizational structure, they're flat/decentralized and populated by humans who have jobs, real jobs that are customer-centric.
The brand is human and interacts with customers in every way possible when things are right, when they know the answer as well as when they don't and when things go awry.
Utilizing a brand platform around being human extends to social media and how the brand speaks to its consumers on Facebook, Twitter and other networks. Another key part of being a human brand is suggesting that you make mistakes.
Rugged Path – The path for a company/brand to develop strong customer relationships and support isn't smooth and straight. Employees at all levels have to proceed carefully, understanding that the customer (generally) really wants to like your product and the company/people behind the product/service.
Humanizing the Organization
Acting and working like a human isn't without its challenges, obstacles and uncertainties. And it sure isn't about your connections, your followers.
It's about creating a relevant customer experience because ... that's what humans do.