When we talk about what it takes to build a successful business, we tend to stick to the basics of supply and demand.
Would-be small business owners are told to think about who exactly they’re selling their product to, and make sure that their target market actually has a need and is willing to pay for their product.
Clearly, these are important things to think about. But for most of us, choosing where to spend money isn’t as cut and dry as whether or not we desperately need a product or service.
Instead, we often make buying decisions less based on logic, and more based on our emotions.
Satisfaction isn’t enough
It’s safe to say that most businesses want customers to feel satisfied (perhaps with the exception of a few internet service provider giants—but let’s not get off track).
This is great—but it means that making customers happy isn’t going to make you stand out, notes Harvard Business Review (HBR). Everyone else is concerned with customer satisfaction too; your business won’t rise to the top based on high satisfaction alone.
HBR claims that businesses that focus only on satisfaction will usually end up with customers who are content. But, they won’t have an emotional connection to the business.
This results in less brand loyalty, which means customers don’t stick around as long.
“Many companies are busy mapping their customer experience and tracking customer activity across physical stores, call centers, ecommerce sites, and social media, gathering mountains of data from their own surveys, customer tracking systems, loyalty programs, and third-party providers,” say authors Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon.
This can help businesses create a solid product or service—but the authors argue that this is not enough. After studying hundreds of brands, the authors found that businesses should focus more on creating an emotional connection with customers, rather than just increasing customer satisfaction.
This is because having an emotional connection to a brand makes customers more loyal. So, they’ll stay customers for longer.
It’s not just about the transaction
Your customers aren’t just coming to you to buy. They want a positive experience on an emotional level.
Another recent HBR case study tells the story of a failed business that did everything right on paper, but didn’t build an emotional connection.
The business, called “AgriCo” for the purposes of the article, was an app for remote farmers to order supplies online. The startup “failed dramatically,” even though users reported that they had no complaints with the service. In fact, the farmers said they liked the feature set and how it worked.
While the farmers had only good things to say about the platform, they didn’t like using it in the same way they liked speaking to and ordering from a real live telephone operator, as they had done for years.
The farmers, it turned out, looked forward to the chance to actually talk with someone on the phone. They liked having an ongoing relationship with the person they were ordering from. They would share updates on each other’s lives, and get expert product recommendations. This experience was completely missing with the AgriCo platform.
The AgriCo app was slick, effective, and useful. On paper, it met a need. But, it was too transactional, and lacked any sort of emotional connection.
How to build an emotional connection with your customers
So, you probably already know that building this emotional connection matters. You can use content marketing—blogging and social media—to help you make meaningful connections with your customers. However, actually doing it is another story.
I spoke with Celeste Peterson, our resident customer service expert at Palo Alto Software. (Check out her great article on customer communication for more advice from her).
Here is her advice on practical ways to build an emotional connection.
1. Find out what your customers love
You know your customer base better than anyone. What do they absolutely love, need, and require in their lives?
Here’s a hint: It probably isn’t your product or service (sorry). Instead, Patel suggests that it’s most likely a feeling.
Consider the remote farmers who weren’t that interested in the supply app, even though it was perfectly useful. What they loved wasn’t farming supplies. They loved building a personal connection and having someone to talk to.
They loved being able to build a relationship with an actual live human. They liked keeping in contact with that person on a regular basis. They enjoyed learning about their lives and sharing tidbits of their day—all while purchasing the products they needed.
The actual products were not the most important part. It was about the entire experience of ordering and speaking with an expert (who had, over the years, also become something of a friend) that the farmers loved.
2. Create content that speaks to your customers emotionally
Are you using a blog or social media to drive sales? That’s a good start. But, don’t just use these channels to market your product or service. Think about how you can use them to build that connection.
Patel suggests using storytelling and real-life anecdotes that your readers might relate to. He says you should speak directly to your customers, and make it all about them.
3. Use tools that make it easier to connect with customers
Creating an emotional connection isn’t just about your marketing and how you talk about your business. It’s also deeply rooted in the way you talk to your customers.
Celeste suggests adding tools to your workflow that will make it easier to get the basics right. Celeste notes that using a shared inbox tool like Outpost helps businesses route customer emails to the person best suited to respond to them. This makes it more likely that customers will be able to talk to a member of the team that can actually help solve their problem.
“If someone asks a question about a service call, and the email gets assigned to a service manager who replies quickly and makes the customer feel like their request is considered a high priority, they’ll likely feel cared about and avoid the frustration of multiple emails with multiple people until they get connected with the person who can best help them,” she says.
Celeste notes that sometimes responding quickly will also give you the best chance to connect with your customer when they are feeling a strong emotion. Maybe they are angry about a mix-up, or desperate for a fix to a problem. If you can give them an answer or solve their issue quickly and correctly, you have the chance to create a strong emotional connection with them.
Celeste also says that the faster you can do this, the more likely you are to have the chance to give them a positive emotional experience. If you take too long, they might give up and move on.
“If too much time passes, they may have moved on to other things and the opportunity to save the day when they need it is missed,” she says.
The right tools for your business will, of course, depend on your business. But, it is worth keeping in mind that building an emotional connection with your customers involves every corner of your company. This means taking stock of your offering, the language you use to talk about your business, how you communicate with customers, and everything in between.
Then, it’s about finding ways to not only meet your customer’s needs, but build a deeper connection with them.