We’re at an interesting time in human history. On the one hand, we’re donning face masks, erecting plastic barriers, and disinfecting our hands after any personal interaction. At the same time, we’re in the streets demanding that racial barriers come down once and for all, and to state unequivocally that every African American is a unique individual who matters greatly to our country.
We can’t deny that we’ve lost the things that have traditionally allowed us to be personal — touch, being face-to-face, civility — at a time when we need them most. We’ve seen brands respond with compassion to COVID-19 and to the Black Lives Matter movement, releasing statements of support, manufacturing PPE and respirators, and donating to African American advocacy groups.
But your work isn’t done. You still have another role to play, and that is to make every one of your customers feel as if they are a valued and unique individual. The commodification of the customer needs to end. Customers are more than a lifetime value number or an average basket size, they’re moms and dads, daughters and sons, and people with hopes, ambitions and challenges to overcome.
So let’s forget about the B2C, B2B and D2C business labels for a second and concentrate on the model that’s truly important right now: P2P, or person to person.
Customers Are Onto Mass “Personalization”
Over the past decade tech companies and pundits have boasted about the ecommerce industry’s ability to deliver personalization at scale thanks to AI, recommendation engines of every stripe, chat bots, programmatic advertising with dynamic creative optimization and the like, but the consumer isn’t buying it.
It turns out, people have a different definition of what personalization means. According to the 2020 Gladly Customer Expectations Report, consumers want to be known by their name, and they resent when they’re made to feel like nothing more than a case or a ticket. In fact:
- 79% say personalized service is more important than personalized marketing
- Only 36% of customers say brands make them feel like unique individuals
- 84% of consumers say they’ll spend more money, and go out of their way, to shop with a brand that provides them with great experiences.
What makes people feel like a person rather than a ticket? Sixty-six percent of consumers told Gladly that they feel human when a brand knows them, either by name, or as a shopper from a specific location. Fifty-six percent say they feel like a person when a brand can recall and acknowledge past conversations, and 55% say it’s when the brand acknowledges past purchases.
Technology can go a long way in driving efficiency in interactions with customers, but it can’t provide the personal touch customers want most. This is why I believe P2P is where retailers and brands need to focus their attention over the next 12 months. Nothing will make your customers more loyal or appreciative of your brand than for you to demonstrate a better understanding of their feelings and needs.
B2B Gets it Right
I find it interesting that ecommerce puts a lot of energy into designing B2C sites that are captivating and inviting, and yet when it comes to emphasizing the personal relationship, those sites don’t come close to B2B.
B2B sales have always been about the personal customer relationship. A building supply company knows that its customers need efficiency and reliability above all else. Their livelihoods depend on it. So they explain their products and their guarantees one-on-one. And they build sites that make it easy for their buyers to place orders in bulk, pay via their preferred payment options, display negotiated pricing, accept orders via spreadsheets, and allow them to place repeat orders in just a few clicks. These sites display an inherent respect for their customers’ time and business.
B2C hasn’t done nearly as good a job of understanding the customer. The industry has created very efficient systems for selling. We’ve optimized ecommerce funnels and store layouts and streamlined the checkout processes, but do you even know who’s buying from you? Or why? Is there a better way to build that relationship other than bombarding their inbox with general emails or retargeting them with ads for products they’ve already purchased when they go to check the weather?
Right now, customer interactions are all about closing the sale, right then and there. Sites deploy a host of tactics, aptly called dark patterns, that seek to coerce consumers into buying, regardless of whether that’s the right choice for the consumer at that moment in time. They “create urgency” by telling consumers there are just a few of those items left in the warehouse and other shoppers are looking at it. And they engage in “confirm shaming,” a tactic in which consumers must agree they’re losers in order to close a pop-up window. They sneak things into the cart and hope the customer doesn’t notice and so on.
What if all brands became more like B2B, and adopt a long-term view of their customers and the relationships they can have with them? If they viewed each shopper as someone to whom you could sell over the long haul, rather than attempt to close the deal at hand using whatever tactic possible?
Now is the Time for One-to-One Selling
Now is an ideal time to begin selling one-to-one, to introduce post-purchase, and even pre-purchase opportunities for customers to connect with one of your customer experience team members in a more engaged way. There are some great brands that are doing this really well today.
Take Parachute, a home and bedding store that invites shoppers to work with a styling consultant who “visits” their homes via a video app in order to recommend colors, styles and products that actually match the consumer’s home.
It’s the antithesis of those email newsletters we all receive that promise stuff, “you’ll love,” when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
King Arthur Flour is another great example of a brand that knows how to do personalization. On the one hand, its site sells baking necessities and bakeware. But it also offers plenty of recipes and step by step tutorials that teach critical baking skills to home bakers. And if a dough doesn’t rise or have the same consistency as the one in the video, bakers are invited to call the King Arthur Baker’s Hotline for assistance. Calls aren’t answered by reps who have little experience in baking and who read canned answers, most of the reps have culinary degrees and have worked as professional bakers, chocolatiers, and chefs before coming to King Arthur. Recently, Eater magazine described how the hotline became a source of comfort during the quarantine, soothing customer anxieties that went beyond their buttercreams not mixing properly, like when they’ll be able to hug their grandkids again.
What I like about King Arthur is the way the brand views customer service as a revenue generator and not a cost center to be optimized and automated. By maintaining a staff of highly qualified experts to dispense baking advice in their customers’ hours of need, the company is ensuring those customers succeed at their baking projects, and that success makes them inspired to try bigger and more ambitious projects.
T-Mobile made a commitment to provide every customer with a dedicated customer service team so that callers wouldn’t need to repeat the background of their issue every time they reached out. When I had an issue I had the same rep answer my call three times in a row and it was great. I absolutely received the kind of personalized attention that makes me feel glad I had chosen them as my wireless provider. I haven’t had that level of service of late and I miss it.
I firmly believe that brands should begin implementing P2P practices today. That means a few things. First, it means doing things like calling customers after they’ve made a purchase to see how things are going for them. Is the product living up to their expectations? Do they have questions? What would they like to see improved? Would they recommend it to a friend? Customers don’t need to take the calls if they don’t want to, but those who answer will be overwhelmed by the gesture. Such calls are exactly what makes them feel like people, not tickets or cases.
Sales associates who work in retail outlets should be empowered to spend more time with customers, even if it means some other task needs to wait until a shopper has had all of his or her questions answered. Associates need the freedom to step away from whatever they may be doing, and to be cross trained in assisting customers. If your brand sells automobile tires, make sure your sales associates have actually gotten their hands dirty changing one so that they know what they’re talking about when advising in-store shoppers. In a best case scenario, the associate should head out to the parking lot to help the customer change his or her tires right then and there.
Plexiglass, masks, and social distancing will remain with us for the foreseeable future, but those things don’t bar us from looking a customer in the eye and talking to them about their lives. There’s no better way to get that consumer back into your store, or recommending your brand to their friends and family then making him or her feel like a valued human being.