“Dear human.”

“We’re in a unique moment in history for brands to be beacons for their customers, yet badly executed customer journeys risk doing the opposite,” explores Sharon Henderson, managing director of Federation.

In this unprecedented moment in history, one that’s profoundly changed the way that we work and connect with others, there’s something else that needs to change too.  And that’s the way marketing automation engages with us as customers. 

Never before has it been so important for marketers to embed a human touch and authentic humanity into customer communications – whether they’re automated or not.

The connection between a brand’s higher purpose and its customers would you think, be an utterly seamless one, where together they work in harmony to deliver an experience that genuinely differentiates the brand and relationship from competitors.

Something few if any marketers had a bottom drawer gameplan for was COVID-19. While the world corrects itself, the next four weeks is a unique opportunity to rewrite the strategy for how the voice of your brand and the language it uses speaks to your customers.

A few months back, I registered my email on the site of a juggernaut, technology-based consumer services company. Their brand TVCs promised to be there for me when I needed them.  Curious to see how they lived up to their promise, I entered my email address as requested – front and centre on their homepage.  Then I waited. 

And then it began. I started receiving what most of us would consider to be unsolicited, automated emails that also made some pretty big, uniformed assumptions about me and what they could sell me.  It might have been polite if their first communication to me had welcomed me and asked me what I needed before their resident R2D2 starting auto-spamming me.  Since COVID-19’s acceleration a month ago, that same company has gone completely silent.  Now they don’t talk to me at all.  Don’t they love me anymore?  Don’t they want my business anymore? I’m guessing it’s simply that they don’t know what to say.

The potential conflict between the brand essence and intelligently executed communication is one of the great dichotomies for marketers today. And it’s one of the big things to get right, right now.  In the effort to become more personal and relevant to customers, badly executed automated customer journeys risk doing the opposite.  They depersonalise the most valuable customer relationships your brand has and forget that I’m a human and a valuable customer.  Since COVID-19, my inbox has overflowed with emails from the CEOs of of the companies who matter in my life – here in New Zealand and around the world.   Your CEO is a critical person in a crisis and it would be a lot more reassuring to receive something way more personalised and brand-fit than many of the emails I have received.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had some great customer experiences thanks to artificial intelligence and automation.  3 years ago, I was nothing short of effusive in my thanks online for what was just outstanding service.  At the time I believed I was finally dealing with the most amazing human ever in the field of customer service, only to realise too late that I’d just written a lengthy electronic message of thanks to a chatbot. (I hope that thank you note is still held up as the holy grail of chatbot success within that company – who happened to be one of my utility providers.)

So here’s a radical idea for enhancing brand love and the customer experience at the most critical moment to the future of many companies, their customers and the livelihoods of so many.

Here it is. “Be authentic.  Remember that customers are also humans.”

Radical isn’t it?

But it’s never been more important than now when people all over New Zealand are feeling the pain of both economic and personal crisis.  Remember that we are real life, living, breathing people and needs are going through the same massive change that we all just went through with work, home and life.  We need human to human contact. So please don’t stop talking to us.  Never allow customers to become just another name and address field in your database for the daleks to take control of.  Not ever.  And especially not at this unprecedented moment for a whole generation of customers. They need to know at least you know what to do next.

Artificial intelligence and marketing automation platforms are awe-inspiring things when used by humans to genuinely add value to a customer’s interaction with a brand.  CX, Artificial Intelligence and Human Centred Design have brought sophistication to marketing segmentation, messaging and timing, but they are making audiences more sophisticated and increasingly discerning too.

The final take-out:  COVID-19 has just given you the best reason you’ll ever have to rethink how you talk to your customers – forever.  No brand should ever try to replace thoughtful, helpful, useful human contact and humanity with an abundance of droids. 

Creative ideas, human touch and a sense of humanity need to remain deeply embedded into the customer experience, whether it’s automated or enhanced by AI…or not. 

Sharon Henderson is managing director of Federation.

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