Humanizing the Customer Experience


Your customers are human. And should be treated as such. Bryan Reynolds, Director of Sales Operations at TBI, shares how to engage your customer by creating a lasting human experience (HX) resulting in a confident, connected, and satisfied consumer of your products and services.

At a glance: 
  • There will be a need for a fundamental shift in how we think about customers.  They are no longer “customers,” but rather HUMANS. Customer Experience (CX) is now Human Experience (HX) 
  • Avoid 'cyclical and finite' and think 'linear and long-term'.
  • Empathy, Honesty, and Compassion are the keys to shaping your HX. 
  • Your business and the underlying culture need to personify a collective EQ as it relates to your customer’s needs, fears, and beliefs.
  • Think of your product/service as content that you create.  You must deliver that content reliably regardless of situation.  
  • Your customer will now have a lot of “what if” questions.  Address them now. 
  • Find your fear and publicize it.  Authenticity should be your campaign, and to be authentic, you must be vulnerable. 

Well things escalated quickly, didn’t they?    

If you were to ask me in January where I thought I would be in a few months, I don’t think I would have said anything out of the ordinary. But here I am, sitting at home for weeks at a time watching people on Instagram post videos of themselves shaving their heads, trying out every baking recipe that I can find, and binging shows about mullet-toting tiger keepers. It’s such a weird time. Never did we, as a society, think that we would have to deal with anything like this. Our social interactions are now through a screen, watching a new Hollywood hit now takes place from our sofa, and wearing a mask that covers your face is the new-norm – and all this happened in a mere couple of weeks.   

I’ve heard a lot of people compare the pandemic to September 11. Everyone remembers where they were when the planes hit the towers – its seared into our memories. After it happened, we were left with the heavy, looming stench of uncertainty in the air coupled with the sudden loss of economic comfort and the panic of an unseen, uncontrollable enemy. Cozy one moment, confused the next. I can recall sitting in my 9th grade English class watching all of this unfurl on an old grey television that was wheeled into the classroom while many, many questions filled my head. Everyone was quiet; harshly solemn. Nobody knew what comes next or how they should react. What do I do? Should I be scared? Should I be brave? How do we come out of this?   

Those questions resurface today.  

Almost 20 years later, here we are faced with yet another crisis that is new to all of us. But if we were to look back and learn anything from the events that occurred in 2001, it’s that the human spirit is one that continues to rise to overcome even the most challenging of obstacles. Given the current situation, we are feeling a lot of that same insecurity that we all felt in 2001. Your routines and common comforts that you once enjoyed freely are no longer within arm’s reach. Everything changed then and everything is going to change yet again.  Getting coffee, going on a date, flying to a destination are all going to evolve into drastically different tasks. You, as the consumer, have to adapt; and the businesses that provide those goods/services have to adapt along with you.  

“Customer” is now just a Label 

Regardless of the industry you’re in, the long-term impact that this will have on how you conduct business is yet to be measured, but one thing that will remain the same before, during, and after COVID is that the relationships that you’ve built with your customers are cultivated by the experiences they have and are solidified by interactions. We tend to be hasty in times like this, pushing to advance our capabilities to get ahead of the issues, but innovation can only do so much when it comes to the evolution of the customer psyche – and evolve it will. That’s why there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we understand who our customer is.  

Change your focus from customer experience (CX) to human experience (HX). 

For starters, stop thinking of them as ‘customers’ - you’re not shaping a customer’s experience anymore.  You’re shaping a human experience and facilitating a journey, through your product/service, that a human can follow and connect to. If you really stop to think about it, the term ‘customer’ is so finite and cyclical in its meaning. CX's goal is to engage, sell, retain, repeat? It's cyclical. But business, as shaped by COVID, will now require more. You’ll need to think of your customer as a deeper connection to society as a whole and figure out how your business strengthens that connection. Think linear and progressive.

Your first question shouldn’t be, “How can I grab market share?” or even, “How do I boost revenue to stabilize the economic massacre I’m facing?” Instead, your most pressing question should be, “How do I support my customers right now in a meaningful, human, and relevant way?”

“There will be interruptions, and I don’t know when they will occur, and I don’t how deep they will occur, I do know they will occur from time to time, and I also know that we’ll come out better on the other end”

Arvind Krishna – CEO of IBM

Brands with the lowest price point, trendiest offering, or coolest Twitter account will not have an advantage compared to those that show emotional intelligence and communicate with empathy, honesty, and compassion. Within a community, whether local or global, businesses are looked upon as living, breathing entities that have the power to impact society. This is important to understand because in times of hardship, people desire to be seen and understood which makes them extremely sensitive to overall tone and motivation. Therefore, how a living, breathing business reacts to adversity and change isn’t taken lightly; and how they help the customer reshape their journey is imperative to the company's survival. Are you leading and impacting society or are you selling and impacting yourself? 

Your customer will know the answer.  

Defining the Human Experience (HX)

The post-COVID customer has a lot of new concerns that you can help to address in various ways. The HX should be at the forefront of your approach to guiding them through purchasing decisions.

The Collective EQ

‘Emotional Intelligence’ (EQ) is a huge buzz word in today’s management pedagogy. It’s one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, but no one actually knows what it means or what its importance is. But today, more than ever, it is crucial. EQ goes way beyond the ability to assess if someone is mad/sad/happy/etc., it’s about how to respond to those emotions in a significant yet consequential way. Your business and the underlying culture need to personify a collective EQ as it relates to your customer’s needs, fears, and beliefs. This may sound obvious, but it is often forgotten when attempting to connect to customers.  

To paint you a picture, I received an email from a hotel that I stayed at 5+ years ago that outlined how they were handling the crisis. This was less-than-helpful and since it was one of hundreds of emails from companies that I received, I quickly deleted it. It was not what I, as a human, needed in that moment.  I was way more worried about family members and my own employees to care about what that hotel chain was doing. The timing and overall response was not in line with my needs. Their collective EQ was focused on their retaining me as a customer rather than deepening my connection to them as a human. If, perhaps the hotel chain was repurposing rooms for patient use or donating PPE to healthcare workers, perhaps my reaction would have been different.   

Understand how your customer is feeling in the moment and use that information to determine how you will communicate. Don’t use the situation to capitalize.  How can you create a human experience that deepens the connection?  When collective EQ is applied properly, you build trust and confidence that ultimately adds up to success. We are all experiencing something new, and new experiences (positive and negative) deepen connections and ultimately result in better morale and, in time, better productivity and future growth.    

Take the Experience Where it Needs to Go

Content creation will always be a necessity (as long as it’s relevant) and is one of the most flexible business models that I can think of. But the content is only as good as its delivery. Timing, quality, and relevance are all key in content. So many businesses fail to account for this and think they have a solid hold on their craft.  Blockbuster is a prime example of this.  In 2000, Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million, but passed on the opportunity. Netflix now has a current market cap that gets closer to $200 billion as the days pass.    

Oops. 

Blockbuster was a content distributor, so was Netflix. Netflix’s business model was new at the time and Blockbuster was wildly successful, but Blockbuster didn’t take into consideration the number of bottlenecks that can occur in their model and how Netflix could have opened those up.  

You know how the story ends, don’t fall into the same trap. You may have a solid business, but if you can’t get that service to the consumer (in good times or in bad) in a timely, quality, relevant way, you might as well not even try. Don’t assume your service is essential and customers will come to you.  Instead, think of your business/service as content.  Creating a good HX is dependent upon the reliability of your being able to deliver your content (service/product) to the customer and is vital to the sustainability of your business.    

The “what if” Factor

While important, solid delivery of your service or product is only half the battle. If you continue to focus on the HX, you’ll find that there are many other different (and new) concerns that your customer has. This pandemic has put many things into perspective for us all as well as made us a bit skeptical about the things we once thought necessary. There will now be a lot of “what ifs” that come into play.  Realizing it and taking steps to proactively address them will help push your HX to the next level.       

For example, social interaction.  I think we are at the point where introverts are even starting to crave human interaction. We are several weeks into the social distancing protocols and just want to sit down and have a drink with friends. We will once again return to those times, but there will now always be a haunting concern of health associated. “What if I get sick from consuming your product/service?”  In all of your messaging, put health and safety as a top priority, especially if your product or service isn’t considered ‘essential.’  On top of that, customers are weary about giving their money to a business that may have to close or cancel services for any reason. “What if I pay you and you can’t follow through?” Think about the countless festivals and concerts that were cancelled due to COVID. Think about the many different types of gym memberships and other subscription services that were affected. The customer will want assurances that if they cannot consume your services, you will give their money back or that you at least have a plan B in place should the original arrangement not occur.  

Find your Fear and Publicize It

As I stated earlier, people just want to be seen and understood, and the way to reassure that is through providing authenticity and showing vulnerability.  Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness but is in fact a strength and is a common denominator between all humans. The strength in vulnerability comes from the combination of fear and a necessity to adapt. Most company’s attempt to create the perception of authenticity, but, as I said, your customers are now very sensitive to tone and motivation. Therefore, your campaign's driving force should be authenticity, and to be authentic, you must be vulnerable.  

One company/leader that has gracefully employed the power of vulnerability, authenticity, as well as delivery is Marriott and their CEO Arne Sorenson. This is roughly a 6 minute video (seriously, watch it), but is more than enough to convey the difficulty that the company (a living, breathing entity) is going through. Marriott employs almost 175,000 people and has millions of customers. This is a global brand that has been around for a very long time, and to see their top executive get in front of a camera and lay out the facts in an authentic and meaningful way gives me, as the customer (human), more confidence in the brand’s ability to enact change and progress. More than likely, because of Mr. Sorenson’s words and authenticity, I will choose Marriott over any of the other brands. Marriott has demonstrated to me that we are not that much different in this trying time. They care about what I care about and have the same fears that I do. We are in this together.   

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"No one reaches out to you for compassion or empathy so you can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them."

-Brene Brown

To adjust to your customer’s new needs, you’ll have to do some things that may be very uncomfortable. This life-altering pandemic will have ripples that will span many years, but the best, most scalable thing you can do for your business is to always come back to essentials of human nature. Deepen their connection to society by building an HX that is meaningful, human, and relevant.  

Doing this will prepare your business for the best, and worst, of times.    

As Director of Sales Operations for tech distributor TBI, Bryan Reynolds leads an organization of 75+ individuals  supporting IT partner community, from quoting and solution design to project management. His ultimate drivers incorporate breaking tradition and pushing the boundaries of service by finding ways to continuously add value for TBI’s partners. Reynolds is an avid writer and speaker within the industry and serves as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Channel Partners as well as a member of the Associate Board of Meals on Wheels Chicago. Connect with Bryan on LinkedIn or at breynolds@tbicom.com

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