Don’t Phase Out the Human Touch

Like most of my peers (and most of America), I did much of my 2004 holiday shopping online. Though in some respects the process gets a little smoother each year (you wouldn’t believe the speed with which Amazon delivered), I did have my fair share of struggles. Ironically, all were the result of the technological upgrades online retailers had made.

And all were tied to email.

You may have noticed this trend. In an effort to save on operational costs and update customer service, many companies have opted to establish email as the sole form of communication between the customer and retailer. Many new e-businesses go this route from the start. It doesn’t just mean customers are encouraged to ask questions and explain problems via email. It means a telephone alternative simply doesn’t exist.

For Internet junkies like me, this wouldn’t normally be an issue. I generally find it more convenient to submit inquiries and receive responses via email, anyway. Unfortunately, email customer service isn’t a failsafe system. Response times can be slow, messages usually aloof and abrupt, and customer care reps don’t always get what you’re trying to type. When you need to resolve a billing issue, this can turn into a major problem.

Like companies that adopted email-only customer service, Internet marketers make oversights when upgrading their marketing. Their main mistake is phasing out the human touch. Somehow, when they go from offline to the Web, they forget how to relate to clients.

Whether you’re recommending an online buy or developing copy for an auto-response message, there are always ways to make this right. Here are a couple of my favorite techniques for infusing interactive marketing with a personal touch.

Humanize Client Contact, Help Clients Do the Same

In a media buyer’s world, the “customers” you seek to satisfy are your clients. If you want to keep them, you’d better develop a good rapport. That doesn’t just mean scheduling plenty of face time and answering calls and email in a timely manner. It also means offering tips on how they can benefit from incorporating a human touch in their campaigns.

One popular approach is tapping house lists for customer information. Deploy birthday greetings and special offers to loyal customers. Another tactic sure to tug on heartstrings is a charity campaign. Increasingly more companies send annual email messages, usually right before the holidays, that allow favored customers a chance to see donations made to their charities of choice.

When pitching such a campaign to your clients, don’t forget to add them to your agency’s own charity email list. It’s a great way to show you value them.

Humanize Messages to Differentiate Your Client’s Business

Anyone will tell you a Web site, online ad, or email that adopts a friendly, casual tone is far more memorable and appealing. My favorite example of this comes from Zingermans, that fabulous deli in Ann Arbor, MI, with a cult following. A recent email order confirmation I received read:

Tessa,

Thank you so much for your order — your order confirmation is below.

Did you know we now bake our legendary, best-selling, can’t-go-wrong-sending-this-one sour cream coffeecake in two sizes? Make sure you check it out next time you visit!

We guarantee absolute satisfaction. If you experience a problem with any of our products, our customer service, or our shipping, please let us know — we’ll do whatever it takes to make it right.

Yours sincerely,

Toni Morell and Tom Root
Managing Partners
Zingermans.com

The friendly demeanor displayed in this message extends from the company’s site to the copy in its offline catalogue to the folks who answer email and calls. If you ask me, it’s most powerful when it shows up in an inbox amid a sea of impersonal, lackluster messages.

Technology allows retailers and marketers to do some incredible things, but it also encourages us to cut corners. Whatever you sell or promote, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remind her people run your business, and she’ll happily help drive your success.

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