Without releasing it, people have a need (in varying degrees) to join, belong, discuss and engage. We are constantly on the lookout for people, places, items, experiences that reflect who we are and how we think we can present to the world. Abraham Maslow best described human needs in his 5 hierarchy of needs1. The first being the basic need for food and shelter, second is the need of security (jobs, health, house) and the third one up the ladder is a need for a sense of belonging. When we have all three then we are secure. Why do we need to know this when we are trying to sell our products and services?
After our basic needs are met we start looking to fulfil our need to fit into the world. Social media has created a completely accessible online community of people who want to start up groups, follow other groups, participate in commentary and generally engage in activities that makes sense of their reality by talking about their everyday lives with other like minded people. This opens the door for communications to reach millions of people in lightening speed. Consequently this new wave of communicating which meets the need to connect with others has permanently changed the face of marketing communications and the way in which businesses interact with the market.
Image this scenario. A customer calls your business or buys a product from you. They already have visited your website, researched online the attributes of your product, learned about the benefits that other people had experienced through product review sites. Your product had mixed reviews but, on the whole, was talked about as a good company with a good product. We all know you can’t please everybody so the negative comments were taken with a grain of salt by this customer. They ordered from you, and unfortunately, they find your product was not what they expected from their findings, so they contact your customer service number for reassurance, reinforcement or a simple explanation. After all, your website did say that you put your customer first, each and every time and that you had superior customer service. This statement made the customer feel comfortable to call your number. Your team on the other hand, aren’t trained to deal with their unusual scenario and couldn’t give any alternative to their dissatisfaction so the customer wasn’t offered anything else and was left with a product that now gave them a feeling of dissatisfaction.
So, was that the end of the interaction? Not in the slightest.
In today’s day and age, this one customer could have sent out viral recording or video of their negative customer service experience to the social media groups they belong to. Their message will now reach thousands of people who will watch your customer service fail. One moment in time where the promises in the marketing doesn’t live up to the reality, can cause reputational damage and potential financial downturn for a business in as short as 24 hours.
When people are searching for security (reinforcement that their purchase choice was a good choice) and a positive service interaction (meeting a sense of group and belonging) we transfer these needs into the products and services we buy, whether we are conscious of it or not. These are the two entry points from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where a majority of marketing communications first reach with us. Businesses try to meet those our needs so we can buy from them. If a business does this well, we often come back to the same products and services because we feel good about ourselves and our choices. We even find ourselves telling our friends and family all about that great brand, great product or amazing experience, and other people in our group feel compelled to try it out for themselves.
Most businesses focus on the Point of Sale (quite rightly), however a business which uses all forms of communication (subtle, indirect and direct) will be ahead of the competition. When all the messages that are being sent to us saying the same thing, it makes us feel like we can trust that particular business.
What elements in a business communicates?
Everything. Yes, that’s right. As people, we are wired to “read” everything in our world in our journey to make sense of our reality. So without thinking we will interpret what is in front of us, from the carpet in a business (is is old, tatty and worn out?) to the amount of time it takes for a staff member to attend to our enquiry (10 minutes? Two minutes? Did they look at us? Do they know we are waiting?).
Subliminal indirect (subtle) messages in business occur everyday (i.e. messages we don’t consciously realise we are absorbing and/or sending), for example:
- Wall colours matter. Did you know purple means sensitivity and compassion?2
- How clean your building is (or isn’t) also communicates. A place that is clean, freshly painted and well presented is perceived as organised and ready to serve, versus a deliberately untidy factory that is perceived to hold products cheap in price.
- Music. Classical music in Australian business has been used in an attempt to reduce loitering across major shopping centres3.
- Tone of voice - critical for sales staff and telephone manner. A person with moderate of low tone of voice is typically interpreted as a confident person4. Tone of voice sends messages to other people about their feeling and emotion (i.e. dismissive or disinterested tones in staff repeals customers)
- Reception desk - size, colour, accessibility, comfort of chairs... is the receptionist there?
Then there are the more direct messages that businesses send out to their customers, such as:
- Signage (posters, brand image, sandwich boards, menus, direction signs)
- Uniforms (formal and informal, male/female looks, branding on uniforms)
- Website (imagery, copy, headlines, navigations, google ranking)
- Email Signature (logo, copy, sign off consistency)
- Letterhead, business cards, swing tags
- Purchase receipts (do you have your return policy or complaint policy on it?)
When a business writes on their front window signage that they have “superior customer service”, people reading that sign will take that message at face value and when they are ready, will want to experience the excellent service for themselves. When people interact with a business and the staff’s behaviour matches the message on the sign, it provides much needed reinforcement of making the choice to engage, and generates positive feelings of satisfaction. Social media will in turn have a plethora is positive reviews from happy customers and customer driven word of mouth (which is now a growing channel of lead generation) builds a solid reputation for a business. Even with critics (and let’s face it there are critics across every business category), the majority view that is communicated will still bear significant weight.
Leading by delegation
In the earlier example, where the customer was dissatisfied, we assume the business had all the direct and indirect messages expressed about the product range but they fell over in just one place - staff. A business leader in that scenario only needed to continue their consistent messages by simply training their team to manage different and difficult customers situations.
It’s no secret that Business Leaders seek to attract customers to not only come to buy from them once, but make those people to want to come back and buy from them again. Now that the reasons why people are buying are known, and how they are talking about their purchases are known, all that Business Leaders need do is check that their business is saying the same thing across all the areas of their operation and their team are living up to those messages.
Delegating the creation of those messages and materials (through marketing and advertising specialists) and employing an experienced sales team leaders to make sure that what you write, wear and advertise, will perfectly match what your business actually says to customers over the counter, over the telephone and in meetings.
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