We've known for a while now that people make their decisions mostly on the basis of emotion, not logic. So we marketers keep trying to appeal to consumers' emotions and optimize customer experiences, all with the goal of building brand loyalty and influencing purchasing decisions.

But what happened to making an actual connection?

In all the frenzy of trying to grab consumers by their emotions, we've crowded out the possibility of creating genuine moments.

A genuine moment between a customer and a brand occurs when the customer experiences something real, something that's more than a transaction. It may be as simple as a human interaction between a customer and a brand representative, or it could be a personal message to the customer that hits home.

Those moments themselves may be fleeting, but they leave a lasting impression. A genuine moment truly boosts the customer experience. And customer experience is predicted to be the key brand differentiator by 2020.

Today's consumers have endless options, and they expect you to compete for their brand love. And as human attention spans get shorter, we have to work harder to stand out. That's why forging a genuine connection is so important: Sharing personal, emotional experiences with your customers will secure their loyalty over the long term.

Making an Authentic Connection

To start creating genuine moments, think of your customer as a friend. You celebrate your friends, empathize with them, listen to them: You show them that you value them as people. Treating your customers that way will create those genuine moments that build connection.

Essentially, you as a brand have to act like—and be like—a human.

That can be daunting; after all, a brand isn't actually a person. But if the humans who represent the brand act like humans and friends, then that's how customers will see you. They'll defend you when you have hard times, celebrate when you accomplish something, and thank you for being a good brand.

If you have been trying to forge personal connections with customers and finding it an uphill battle, the problem could be data-related. Either you're a small company with too little data and too few people to act on that data, or you're a big company with too much of both and a lot of competition for dollars and strategic priorities.

Regardless of the business size, however, thinking of your customer as a friend is the key to creating and optimizing genuine moments.

Creating Genuine Moments for Better Customer Experience

Genuine moments can happen spontaneously, but you don't have to passively wait for them when there are so many opportunities to reach out to customers. The important thing is to get personal: 44% of customers say they will return to a business after a customized interaction. Some may even expect personalization.

Implement the following six steps to create genuine moments between your brand and your customers.

1. Live your brand

Every day, show others how you want your business perceived; do that by living your brand's mission and values. When your employees know that company values are integral to your organization's day-to-day, you'll notice a trickle-down effect that will leave a lasting impression.

One of the best ways to take this step this is to treat your employees in a way that mirrors how you want them to treat customers. If you listen to and celebrate employees, they will do the same for customers.

2. Tap into your team's wisdom

Form a collaborative strategic team that pulls different perspectives and data together and talks about the relationships you have—and the ones you want to have—with your customers.

Start with those who interact directly with customers: Customer Support, Sales, and Marketing will be full of insights and feedback from customers. We are all customers of other businesses, so give everyone on the team a chance to share what they like and don't like when interacting with brands, too.

3. Know your customer's journey

Creating a customer life cycle touchpoint strategy is critical for every business. It sounds complicated, but it's simply a plan you develop and execute to make sure you don't miss critical genuine moments, from a warm welcome to a milestone celebration.

Consider all the touchpoints your customer will have with your brand before, during, and after a purchase (ideally, that will identify a mix of business and life moments), and strategize ways to automatically trigger them as often as possible.

4. Celebrate the customer, not the brand

Birthdays are an obvious moment in a customer life cycle event and should be the first thing you think to include in your touchpoint strategy. But consider how you do it: Though many marketers do have birthday programs or offers, most don't actually take the time to make truly personal, emotional connections in that moment.

A birthday is an occasion that is purely about an individual, so don't make a customer's birthday about your offer. Instead, go out of your way to celebrate the customer on his or her special day.

5. Go beyond birthdays

Customer anniversaries are another stellar opportunity to create genuine moments. You get to acknowledge some history, express appreciation, and send a wish for the future of your relationship.

Take every chance you get to show appreciation—thanking your customers for their business is always time well spent—or, crucially, to offer an apology when necessary. How a business treats a customer when something has not gone well can truly make or break a brand.

Finally, remember to express sympathy. If a customer shares that they just lost a loved one, have the tools on hand to show empathy in that moment.

6. Reach out with meaning

Whatever the customer touchpoint, make your interaction meaningful. Social expression, like sending a greeting card with a personal message inside, is a great way to interact with customers authentically.

As the sender, you have the opportunity to say something about yourself while acknowledging something about the recipient. A business letter, email, banner ad, commercial or even direct mailer simply doesn't give a business the permission that personal contact does.

* * *

We're all someone's customer, and we all love when something about a brand makes us feel great. Your customers are no different. If you take time to think through how you can connect with them authentically, personally, and meaningfully, your efforts will be rewarded with affection and loyalty.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Daryl Person

Daryl Person is vice-president of marketing and creative services at  Hallmark Business Connections, which helps businesses build and strengthen relationships with customers and employees.

LinkedIn: Daryl Person