2021 is the year of hyper-personalized marketing and the authentic customer experience. It’s something that I dove into earlier this year in a post about email marketing. Hyper-personalized marketing means that you see a customer as more than just an order number. You know what they like, dislike, and what they’re on the fence about. You use that information to let the customer know that you see them.
While that sounds easy in theory, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Too often, hyper-personalized marketing comes off as hollow. You may talk the talk, but there’s nothing behind that talk. Despite inputting all the information, a customer is still just an order number, and they know it.
That’s why in addition to hyper-personalized marketing, you need to explore the authentic customer experience.
What is an authentic customer experience?
Let’s start with the word authentic. Authentic means genuine.
So, for a customer, the authentic customer experience means a genuine experience with your business and brand. It’s an experience that no one else has had because no one else is him.
While it’s easy to say that you should create an authentic customer experience, coming up with one is much harder.
Ways to create an authentic customer experience
Perhaps the easiest way to create an authentic customer experience is to actually provide one. Run a business where you know all your customers personally, and they know you. There is nothing wrong with this method, and for some business owners, this works very well. If you’re happy with this, then don’t change it.
However, some businesses cannot afford to run this way. They have or need more customers than they can keep track of, so they need to find other ways to create an authentic customer experience.
That’s what we’ll explore below.
It starts with hiring
An authentic customer experience starts from the first moment a customer interacts with your company. Whether it’s with the receptionist that answers the phone or the sales associate that greets the customer when they walk into your store, that’s the start of the relationship.
To help ensure that your authentic customer experience is on-brand, you need to hire people who fit your brand or understand the brand well enough to put that face forward with the customer. Through these employees, you start to create a strong brand identity, which helps shape the authentic customer experience.
Like you’re talking to a good acquaintance
The authentic customer experience also occurs when the customer feels included.
When I initially wrote this section, I wrote “like you’re talking to a good friend,” then I thought better of it. You want to talk to your customers like you’re talking to a good acquaintance. You’re comfortable enough to use informal language with them, but you’re not so comfortable that you’re open to telling them a dirty joke.
Whether you’re on the phone with a customer or sending an email to them, be conversational. Make it seem like it’s a conversation between friends instead of a formal letter.
When you write and speak, do it like the two of you know each other. It gives the client the impression that they are important to you.
Ditch the scripted response
Ditching the scripted response goes hand-in-hand with the talking to a good acquaintance aspect of the authentic customer experience. A website called The Receptionist sums it up perfectly.
“Automation isn’t the enemy here, but quick assumptions and scripted responses may lead to your customer service team sounding too formal or failing to listen carefully enough to what customers are saying: which leads to your company feeling inauthentic to customers. Instead, reps need to consciously take an extra moment in each customer interaction to fully grasp what customers actually need before they suggest a solution. Summarizing the customer’s issue and repeating it back to them can help your reps to take this pause and ensure they’re getting all of the information necessary to solve a customer’s issue.” (Source: The Receptionist)
There’s nothing worse than calling customer service and have someone not understand what you’re talking about or jump to conclusions about what you need. While scripted is good, employees who listen and react are much better and lead to a much better customer experience overall.
Take the burden of action off of the customer
“When customers call in with an issue, it’s typically after they’ve tried to solve it themselves. The last thing they want to be told is that they have more work to do. Make the process less frustrating by putting the burden of correction back on the company.” (Source: Entrepreneur)
Put another way, friends help each other out. If you want a customer to feel appreciated, then help them out by doing most of the work for them. Don’t make customers jump through hoops if they have a return. Process the return for them or get a replacement sent to them. Do it in one phone call, so they don’t have to keep calling back.
The easier you make it for a customer, the better experience they will have.
Understand your customer
We say this a lot in marketing, but that’s because it’s so important. One of the keys to offering an authentic customer experience is understanding your customer.
Creating an Instagram campaign if most of your clientele is over 50 is futile. Most of your clients don’t use Instagram, so why are you creating an Instagram experience for them?
By understanding your customer, you see them. Think about the Doritos brand, which makes some zany commercials. These commercials don’t make everyone laugh, but they definitely make Doritos’ core clientele laugh. That’s because the clientele gets it. Doritos sees its customers and understands their humor.
When you understand your customer, you can understand what makes them laugh and what tugs at their heartstrings. When you have that, you can create an impactful marketing campaign that embodies the authentic customer experience.
Listen to your customers
In addition to wanting to be seen, customers want to be heard. When they have a complaint or a compliment, they want to know that you have listened to them.
That’s why responding to social media comments is so effective in building an authentic customer experience. It makes customers feel heard.
The next time you post to Facebook or Instagram, be sure to respond to customer comments in a genuine way. Don’t be lulled into offering the same response to each comment. Change it up. Put a little thought into it. Make each customer feel like the response they receive is unique. That will make the customer feel heard, which helps lead to that authentic experience.
Customers often think of businesses as people. Some are trustworthy and predictable, and some are not. Over time, a company will prove itself to be certain things. If they are things that a client values, the client sticks around.
You need to be consistent so that your brand name becomes synonymous with what your brand represents. Think about a brand like Coca-Cola. For decades, the brand offered the exact same product, and people were happy. There was consistency. Then, in 1985, it changed. The company said it was changing its formula and people went nuts. It was so crazy that three months later, Coca-Cola had to backtrack just to save itself. (Source: Coca-Cola)
Once you create an authentic customer experience, people will rely on that experience. Be consistent to make sure your work is not wasted.
The life of your business depends on trust, and that means honesty. There are different forms of honesty along the sales journey, and all of them are important. Be honest about your prices and price plans. Don’t hide fees. Don’t add special charges. Make your pricing straightforward and easy to understand. If you make a mistake, it may be more beneficial for you to eat the cost and fix it the next time than to lose a customer forever.
Honesty should also occur during the client interaction. If you mess up, fess up, and then do what you can to smooth it over with the client. If you don’t know the answer to a client’s question, don’t guess. Tell the client that you don’t know, but you’ll talk to a colleague to find the correct answer.
Clients appreciate a business that is honest at every turn.
The authentic customer experience isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s something that takes time to build and create.
It’s also something that needs to be nurtured. Once the foundation is laid, it needs to be built upon and maintained.
While it takes a lot of work to create and maintain an authentic customer experience and maintain, once a customer has experienced it, you have gained a customer for life.
That can be worth its weight in gold.
Written by Erika Towne