When you walk into a store to buy a suit, an attentive sales associate knows intuitively whether you’re dressing for a wedding or a funeral. By analyzing your body language, tone of voice, and general demeanor, the clerk gains a rudimentary understanding of your situation.
When that insight is used to provide an empathetic response, it builds one of the most important elements of the customer relationship: trust. In this context, it means the customer believes the sales associate has his best interest in mind—and, by extension, so does the business.
It’s a paradigm we should take steps to replicate when we move customer interactions from the physical to the digital world. But too often, businesses obsess about what they want from their websites, apps, and other touch points.
My suggestion: Take a step back.
To paraphrase that famous John F. Kennedy quote, “Ask not what your customers can do for you, ask what you can do for your customers.”
As Simon Sinek so accurately suggested in his 2009 bestseller, “Start With Why,” that means not only thinking strategically about your company mission but also thinking about why customers come to your website or use your app.
What tangential experiences prompted them to interact with a specific digital touch point?
While we can’t control the critical before-and-after moments leading to a customer interaction, we’re nonetheless obliged to try and understand them to offer the best levels of customer-centric service.
Why were customers engaging with that email, performing that search, reading that blog, or opening our app? By looking at interactions from the customer perspective, we open the door to deeper, more meaningful brand experiences.
For example, say an insurance company identifies a customer on its website or app. In one case, the customer might be searching for new insurance after being dropped by his current carrier. In another, a customer might be trying to access customer support to report an accident.
Companies need to understand the context of why and try to understand what prompted the interaction. Granted, this is more challenging online than it is for a sales associate in a physical store. You can’t make eye contact, easily assess a person’s emotional state, or react to a tone of voice. But there are still telltale signs—subtle but detectable variations in behavior:
- A person landing on the website of an insurance company from a desktop computer at 3 p.m. is likely in search of information.
- A person who opens its mobile app shortly before midnight is likely in search of help.
But any time of the day or night, it’s been said that what customers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity.
This was true in 2012, when authors Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman wrote in a Harvard Business Review article, "Many brands lead consumers down confusing purchase paths. The savviest ones simplify and personalize the route." And it is even truer today.
Our digital touch points should appropriately address the context of our customers’ interactions. The app could have a different landing page than the website or different options for accessing customer support.
To be sure, understanding tangential experiences takes effort. Businesses not only need to walk in the shoes of their customers, they need to be empathetic enough to feel the pain caused by the pebbles in those shoes.
Moreover, the effectiveness of our response is directly correlated to how well we know our customers. We need to use relevant data, personalize our messaging, and make sure our interactions will be meaningful and relevant—on a one-to-one basis.
Remember: Customer interactions on digital touchpoints are first and foremost about customers. We need to be thoughtful, compassionate, and invested in creating lifelong relationships with our customers.
The most successful companies use technology to develop a deeper understanding of customers’ priorities and experiences, but technology shouldn’t create robotic responses. It should help us extend our humanity by recognizing what people want and need.
When customers visit the website of a theme park operator, they might ultimately buy tickets. But their primary goal—and the one a smart business will strive to connect with—is planning a vacation. So tap that excitement with language, imagery, and advice to fuel their desires about an amazing vacation experience.
The question comes back to this: How can we make customers feel heard and understood in the digital world—as well as they do in face-to-face interactions in brick-and-mortar stores that offer notable customer service?
The answer will increasingly separate the best companies from all the rest.
As technologies grow ever more sophisticated and our teams become more intelligent about the why, businesses will grow more influential about engaging with our customers on digital touch points.
And that’s a win-win for everyone.