When we did this podcast with Ton Dobbe in February, Invoca CEO Gregg Johnson spoke about the importance of human-to-human connections between brands and customers. News of the impending pandemic was nascent, and we hadn’t yet realized the massive impact it would have on the way that we live, work, and interact with each other. What hasn’t changed since then, or, has in fact become doubly important, is the importance of facilitating real human connections to develop a trusting relationship with your customers.
The Importance of Trust in Uncertain Times
This March, Forrester conducted its Consumer Energy Index study, which captures how willing consumers are to connect with brands in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. What should concern marketers the most is the 10-point drop in the consumer trust metric, which indicates that the pandemic has made consumers less optimistic that people and companies will follow through on the promises they make.
Another global consumer study by Edelman showed that 60% of people are more often turning to the brands that they are “absolutely sure that they can trust” during this crisis. Forrester even goes so far as to say that “earning trust is your metric for success during this time.”
What this means for marketers is that you need to be in touch with the changing needs of your customers so that you can provide compelling reassurance that they can trust your brand. Of course, this is more complicated than just saying “trust us!” You have to carefully craft a relationship with your customers to show them that you understand them and have their best interests at the forefront.
This is particularly true with more complicated or expensive services like healthcare, insurance, home improvement services, and financial services. These are major decisions that impact not only your customers but their families and their future, and they need full confidence that they have made the right decision — especially when there is so much more to worry about and more potentially at stake.
“What drives us at Invoca is that in today’s digitally-driven world, there’s still a big place in the customer journey for human-to-human interaction,” Gregg said in the podcast. From the perspective of a marketer, there has to be a connection between the digital experience and what happens when a customer reaches out to your company for expert advice as part of the buying process.
This blending of digital and consultative experiences is no longer just to create that sought-after “seamless buying journey” it has to be done as a part of earning your customer’s trust.
Gregg illustrated this point in the podcast when he said, “think of it this way, if you have your best friend, and you tell them all your secrets and the things that you’re really worried about in life, and then two weeks later, they show up, and they don’t remember any of that information, they’re probably not going to be your best friend for very long.”
How to Create Trusting Relationships With Your Customers
Immediately becoming a company that people can trust takes more than just a crafty marketing campaign or two. It is an ongoing process that requires that you be present and adaptable to changing needs and concerns, and have the ability to show that you’re listening to the conversations that you’re having with your customers. Here are a few steps you can take to get there.
Show your customers that you know who they are and that you are listening to them
The expectation of your customer is that all of the information that they have given to you over the course of the buying journey will be reflected in all of their future interactions. Because if you can’t manage to do that now, when you should be doing everything in your power to attract them, how will you treat them when they are locked in as a customer? Will you know them well enough to provide empathetic help if something goes wrong? Like that not-so-great best friend, if you can’t prove you’re paying attention to your customers, they won’t be your customer for long, if at all.
“think of it this way, if you have your best friend, and you tell them all your secrets and the things that you’re really worried about in life, and then two weeks later, they show up, and they don’t remember any of that information, they’re probably not going to be your best friend for very long.” - Gregg Johnson, Invoca CEO
This makes it a good time to look carefully at your marketing technology and analytics integrations. When somebody fills out a form for a quote, do you know where they have been on your website? When a customer calls, are you able to immediately connect that phone call with their digital journey? The more first-party data that you are able to collect and connect to a single customer profile, the better you know your customer, and the more likely it is that they’ll trust your brand.
Create ‘messaging in the moment’ that matches your customers’ sentiment
What we are hearing from our customers most often during this crisis is that their customers’ needs and behaviors are changing almost daily. This means that your messaging has to change along with the evolving sentiment. And sending the wrong message now can be very damaging later — Edelman’s Brand Trust Barometer found that 70% of consumers who feel a brand is placing their profits before people during this crisis will lose their trust forever. Be on the lookout for messaging that is excessively lighthearted or unrealistically escapist. Strive instead to provide content that’s educational, sympathetic, and reflective of your customer’s reality on any given day.
Provide easily-accessible channels for human interaction
The digital interactions you have with your customers are undoubtedly important. It’s likely to be the way they find you, how they research your product offerings and prices, and how they figure out whether or not they like you. However, over-rotating to digital can cause an erosion of trust.
In the age of digital transformation, sometimes it seems impossible to talk to a person. Some companies want to push you into the less expensive self-serve digital experience with everything from AI-powered chatbots to fully customized website experiences. It’s not that automated channels are bad — many consumers want them to be available. But when it’s the only option, our research found that over 70% of consumers get frustrated or angry.
Playing hide-the-human has always been a dangerous customer experience game to play, but even more so now, as 83% of consumers want a compassionate connection with a brand that communicates empathy and support with the struggles that they face. Which is tough to do with a chatbot.
If you sell a complex or expensive product, provide a variety of channels for customers to contact you, including making your phone number easy to find on your website, particularly on landing pages where customers have to provide personal information or complete complex transactions.
Strike a balance between technology and people
“Creating the perfect symbiosis of technology and people by blending the power and scale of digital with the empathy and creativity of real human connections can help generate trust with your customers and, in the end, a competitive advantage,” said Ton in his follow-up to the podcast.
“The biggest tailwind that you can generate is with customers who are excited about what you have done for them and can trust you to do the right thing in the future,” Gregg said in the podcast. In a world that’s increasingly digital, the companies that stand out are the ones that deliver the ultimate experience.
And studies have proven that’s not an either/or thing — it occurs when people and technology blend seamlessly. That’s where customers turn into advocates allowing for the type of growth we often can only dream of.