21 August 2015

How can big businesses keep customer interaction personal?

We consider what good looks like.

I was interviewed by a research organisation this week about a leading pension provider. The interview came after I had written a few fairly candid comments on a survey a couple of weeks before, on the subject of customer care and transparency. Apparently I struck a chord.

The interview lasted around an hour and during it the researcher asked, “How do organisations engage customers, delivering excellent customer service, while instilling trust and respect?” Her inference, of course, was that this becomes increasingly difficult as businesses grow and channels of communication with them.

The question set me thinking about how an individual perceives an organisation or brand. And what brands should have top of mind when they communicate with customers. Here are a few thoughts:

Think, as if an individual

Organisations of any scale are necessarily departmentalised. The task of running large operations is split between specialist individuals, and senior team numbers grow to head them up.

It’s at this point that communications can begin to deteriorate. Although many brains are invariably better than one, when it comes to running things, the same does not apply in customer communication. Often many people manage separate channels of communication (written and spoken communication, for example), and it’s here that an organisation’s distinctive tone of voice and persona can be diluted.

To prevent this from happening, organisations should record their personality attributes and enforce the behaviours within them. “We already have Values and Behaviours”, I hear you cry!  This is not to be confused with the guiding principles that colleagues are expected to adopt when working together… more a call to sing as one in customer contact.

What should be achieved is a consistent user experience, irrespective of the channel. So, a customer should be able to walk into a store and talk to an employee and receive a letter as a result of that communication in pretty much the same tone.

Why? Because consumers attach human traits and behaviours to large brands, in order to make sense of the interaction on a personal level. That is to say, Apple is a person, Nike is a person and British Gas is a person in the eyes of customers. Just as much as the person that runs the butchers is… a person.

Sweat the small stuff

It’s amazing how the little things that people do for you – a little thank you note, a door held open – make a real difference to your frame of mind. The same can be said of small gestures of good will between provider and customer. These things don’t have to cost anything, but can be extremely valuable in relationship terms.

If you can define a customer journey, you define a number of opportunities to delight along the way. Add this approach to a cast-iron aftercare process and you’re on your way to brand greatness.

Learn to say, and be, genuinely sorry

Accidents happen in any organisation – primarily because we are all human. For us, what sets an organisation apart is their ability to say, and be, sorry. This may sound fairly trite, but many organisations do not have formal apology and issue resolution processes in place.

Yes, things get fixed, to greater or lesser effect, but there are no guarantees at the end of the process that the customer has been retained. 

Issue resolution is a customer touchpoint, like any other. For that reason it represents the same opportunity to delight – albeit through tricky circumstances.

An example

We recently rebranded a commercial insurance organisation, including renaming them. What our insight activity unearthed, in the run up to the rebrand, was the shear enthusiasm that customers were met with, when they contacted the business.

For us, their enthusiasm and approachability was the key to their communication success. Here was an organisation that oozed customer care – our role was simply to put that in words and pictures.


Talk to us if you’d like to map and analyse your customer journey.