Let Your Company's Personality Shine and Build Customer Connections
One of the biggest ironies of living in a self-service society may be the increasing importance of customer touch points. It seems that the further we move into the age of social media, online shopping, and online forms, the more we long for the old fashioned days of tactile feedback, in-person customer interactions, and unique experiences.
The situation around Toys R Us (“I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid” — that jingle will be stuck in your head now; you’re welcome) has brought this to light. The company filed for bankruptcy in September. The Washington Post outlined the multiple reasons for the move, including massive debt, the inability to compete on price, and poor online selection.
Conversely, mom-and-pop toy stores are seeing increased foot traffic and booming sales. Kids are able to go in and have some hands-on time with the toys, and parents are able to interact with and ask questions of the stores’ knowledgeable staff. As one person quoted in the Post article puts it, the stores are “just amazing places to hang out.”
I saw this firsthand last week. My family and I were on vacation in South Carolina. We stopped in Beaufort, where we poked around the wonderful Monkey’s Uncle toy store. My eight-year old got a chance to play while I talked to the person working the counter, who was friendly and helpful. A good experience.
One might also call it “quaint.” I enjoy the convenience of opening up the Amazon app on my phone and tapping “buy” just as much as anyone, but there is something to be said for being able to actually take some time with a product or have a friendly conversation with a helpful salesperson. In fact, I would say that I’ve become more inclined to be attracted to that kind of sale, especially the more connected (or disconnected) we have become.
In short, I think customers are looking to make a connection with the vendor they’re buying from. They want to feel like they’re not just buying from a big box, faceless entity. They want to have a little fun, experience a little personality, and establish a relationship.
Learning a Lesson
Given this, I think that every company, including those that sell enterprise technology products, can learn from Toys R Us’s harsh lesson. Although it may not be possible or feasible to have an actual storefront, there are ways that organizations can connect with their customers on a deeper, personal level that can help build continued loyalty.
This can be especially powerful and useful in a highly competitive industry, such as technology. Let’s be honest; it can be hard sometimes for customers to differentiate one technology vendor from another. Many organizations tend to sell different versions of the same thing. Certainly, they offer different features and pricing structures, but a quick glance or preliminary research may not make those differentiators stand out too much.
You’ve Got Charisma!
You know what does stand out? Personality.
Believe it or not, companies have personality. We see it all the time with consumer products. For instance, Apple’s advertising and PR reflects the cool and clean look and feel of its products. Barnes & Noble’s marketing and promotions mimic the earthy, eclectic atmosphere of its stores. The personalities of these companies shine through in all of these areas, to create a brand image designed to reinforce their connections with their customers.
I know several examples among our clients where the personality of the organization has come through loud and clear in their marketing materials. For example, SolarWinds, a provider of IT management tools, offers its THWACK user community, which offers customers a chance to interact with each other and ask questions of SolarWinds experts, and some really great videos through the company’s YouTube channel. Meanwhile, open source provider Red Hat does some great things for the developer community and offers useful and personable information to each of its audiences through its corporate blog. Those are just two examples, though there are many more.
It’s Not All About Social Media
Of course, social media is a key part of building a connection with customers, but there’s one important thing to remember. Social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are conduits to building customer connections — they alone are not the connections. Just because a company is tweeting doesn’t mean they’re building relationships. It’s what they’re tweeting that counts, and whether or not the content is reinforcing key messages and — yes — conveying the company’s personality.
But companies must not depend on social media — or really any online form of communication — as the only means of reaching out to customers. As the folks from Monkey’s Uncle and other local shops can no doubt attest, nothing takes the place of good, old-fashioned in-person interactions. To that extent, managers should consider other ways of expressing their organizations’ personalities, including:
- Holding a customer appreciation party
- Conducting regular on-site customer visits — not to sell, but simply to build a rapport or learn more about what the customer is up to
- Developing a customer-centric awards program
- Inviting customers and prospects to tour your corporate offices
- Promoting customers via your own social media channels
After all, there’s no reason why the toy stores and their customers should have all the fun.