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April 22, 2019
How to have a relationship when your customer won’t talk to you
By: Bronwyn van der Merwe

What do you do when silence is gold?

This is the quandary facing Australian brands who have realised that, increasingly, their customers don’t want to talk to them. As Fjord’s 2019 trends point out, customers are giving brands the cold shoulder as they disconnect, unsubscribe and opt out of the barrage of daily digital clutter.

This is not just a sign of irritation. The power of screens to distract us has become a serious mental health issue. Witness the tech executives in Silicon Valley who are writing "minimal screen time" requirements into nanny contracts.

Customers (and organisations) are questioning the value of digital.

We’re starting to recognise that technology—like any superpower—comes with great responsibility. We can use it for good, evil—or trivial.

And our customers increasingly expect us to use it for good.

So how can brands demonstrate they are good for customers—without adding to their digital burden?

We need to build functional, human relationships with our customers

As irritated and exhausted customers put up more and more barriers between themselves and digital technologies, organisations must learn how to create meaningful relationships.

  • How to get beyond the first date

    You’ve persuaded someone to trial your brand. But you may have to change your behaviour to parlay this "first date" into "love". Brand relationships are no longer built through advertising alone, but through meaningful, purposeful and memorable experiences. Marketing must come wrapped in a service that meets an individual’s needs—something the customer actively values.

    Make it all about them. It’s time to put human value back at the centre of innovation. In every interaction you have with your customers, find the opportunities to build emotional value—empathy, compassion, fun, helpfulness—into that moment.

    Avoid being killed by comparisons. You’re not the only fish in the sea. You need to understand where you fit in the ecosystem of other products your customer is engaging with—so you can meet their expectations. If they’re getting a personalised digital receipt from Uber, they probably want one from you too.

  • How to respond to the silent treatment

    When customers go quiet, this is a clue that something is wrong. Your current method of engagement isn’t working. Your experiment failed. So don’t do more of the same. Noisier and busier isn’t going to work. Respect their choice. As a minimum, recognise the attention and effort your service expects from its users and demand it only when it’s useful to people. Ideally, also rethink the value, content, variety and channel for these communications.

    Don’t ask them what’s wrong. If they’re not responding to your texts or emails, they’re not going to fill in your feedback survey. Have a look at your online reviews—perhaps your customer (or the crowd) has already told you what you need to know.

    Don’t assume it’s about you. Sometimes, people stop engaging because they have other stuff going on in their lives. What else do you know about this customer? First time mothers who were perfectly happy to spend their last months of pregnancy engaging with you are now covered in baby sick and surviving on 3 hours’ sleep. They will actively hate the brand that tells them about a holiday in Tahiti or tries to sell them a little black dress.

    Do listen and learn. Every time you reach out to a customer, you learn something else about them. Using these insights well, your service will get more intelligent—and more personalised. Eventually, using data analytics, you’ll be able to deliver millions of unique, meaningful experiences simultaneously.

When customers realise that brands are treating them with consideration and respect, they will start talking again—and they will be open to new and deeper forms of connection.

Sounds like love to me.

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