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How to leverage human interaction to improve digital experiences

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In a survey about improving business processes, the improvement that customers requested most from businesses was better human service. Even in the digital age, consumers prefer human interaction and personal experiences.  

 How to leverage human interaction to improve your digital experiences

A key challenge for brands moving forward is finding ways to offer personalized human service in the broader context of an omnichannel engagement strategy. To learn more about this ongoing development, our Marketing Coordinator, Rob Glenn, sat down with Veriday CEO, Marc Lamoureux, to pick his brain about the importance of human interactions in business. Marc has years of experience helping financial services firms improve their customer engagement by implementing more humanized, personal digital marketing programs.

Rob Glenn: When should human interactions be incorporated as part of the overall digital experience?

Marc Lamoureux: I think an intrinsic part of the digital experience is trying to create human interaction. The world is completely digital now. Everyone has access to some sort of device that connects digitally. People still want human connections. Whenever you can integrate a personal connection, whether in the form of content or by associating an individual with that content, it’s a great way to engage. You should do that 100% of the time if you can manage that.

Rob Glenn: What does human interaction bring to a great digital experience?

Marc Lamoureux: It brings that personal touch, which develops trust and loyalty with the customer. Take Facebook as an example. It works so well because it’s a trusted area where you’re connecting only with your friends. You have let them into your world, and that functions as a protected, lively, social engagement system. For business, the process can work the same way. You should be trying to establish those personal relationships with your customers. And if you do it well, you’re going to develop a trusted ecosystem and have a long future with your customer.

Rob Glenn: How would you plan human touch points in a broader digital engagement strategy?

Marc Lamoureux: There are two main activities that need to be completed when planning human touch points.

1. Don’t limit your segments

Think about the maximum amount of engagement you can get with customers, which is one-to-one. You’re reducing your dependence on a broadcast connection model, giving you the ability accurately target your campaigns.

2. People mapping

The second thing you’ll want to ask is: “who can make the best connection with our customers?” Is it someone in sales? A product expert? Is it someone on the service team who the customers have an affinity with? Try to identify those mappings the same way you map content; you can map your people.

Rob Glenn: How can you use data and other by-products from digital marketing to improve human interactions in a meaningful way?

Marc Lamoureux: Marketing departments today spend a lot of time analyzing data and how content and campaigns perform with customers. You can take the same data, and once you associate people with that content and those customers, you can start to identify data trends with your human interactions. You can experiment with the matching of people with customers just the same as you can experiment with matching your content or campaigns with certain customer segments.

Rob Glenn: What are transactional relationships without a personal connection lacking from a customer’s perspective?

Marc Lamoureux: There are some transactions where personal interactions aren’t necessarily important. In banking, for example, making a payment is not a big, important transaction. But a larger transaction, such as getting a mortgage or making a remittance overseas, may require personal interactions. With high-value transactions, where the customer needs support or help, human interactions are very important. You will want to know who you can contact when help is needed.

Content is another situation where human relationships are important. When people are looking for advice or information, they like to know that there is a person behind the content. They want to know who the author is, and what their perspectives are. Associating content with individuals is a great opportunity for businesses to build trust and loyalty with their customers.

Rob Glenn: How can the financial services industry improve the quality of human interactions in the context of their overall omnichannel experience?

Marc Lamoureux: I think if you map out a traditional customer journey and identify how customers go through the process of engaging and buying with you, but also where your own people come in during journey, you will see where your people are engaged with customers in various parts of the journey. That’s going to help you create a better strategy for mapping and planning your human interactions.

The other thing you can do is an audit of your current engagement processes. For example, a lot of organizations have “find us” pages on their websites. When a client wants to engage and arrange a meeting, oftentimes it’s a black box. They don’t know who they will speak with or who will call them back. In our experience, if a financial services organization can associate people with the purchase process or engagement model, they will get better results with customers.

Rob Glenn: How can technology facilitate human interaction?

Marc Lamoureux: Technology, in some way, provides every person with a broadcast medium. Platforms such as Facebook and Youtube have created these one-to-one, or one-to-ten, or one-to-one-hundred type relationships. Technology has created these micro-broadcast relationships all over the internet through digital mediums. I think that same technology principle can be applied to financial services. Instead of a mass media broadcasted marketing campaign, you can start to think about creating more focused messaging, creating one-to-one-thousand, one-to-one-hundred and ultimately one-to-one marketing relationships.

When I think about how technology can be applied to creating better customer connections and more personal experiences, I think of the typical email process for a large financial services organization. If you send an email to a customer from only the brand, with no people attached to it, a lot of people won’t open it, even if there is high-value content in it. If you take the same content and associate it with somebody they know, they are way more likely to open the email. This will give you a second chance to get them to engage with your content. That’s a really good example of a successful strategy of applying technology to create more human connections in your business.

 

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this conversation, please follow us on Twitter @VeridayHQ for more top-notch content about digital marketing and making the most out of digital channels!

The Irony of Social Selling in the Digital Area

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Social selling in the digital area occurs when salespeople use social media to interact directly with prospects. It involves developing relationships by interacting with prospects on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Social selling and digital marketing are different things, although they work well in tandem. Digital marketing focuses on sending out messages to many people, whereas social selling is focused on cultivating one-to-one relationships.

Social selling has been used long before the advent of digital platforms. Starting in the 1940’s and 1950’s, salespeople started building connections with their clients. They built these connections by taking prospects golfing, to the country club or to an exclusive event. By building a relationship, and highlighting common interests, you will increase the likelihood that a purchase will be made.

Social selling has made a comeback in recent years for two main reasons:

1)  Due to the connectivity brought about by advances in digital platforms, it is now easy to communicate with prospects using the internet.

2) Social selling is making a comeback because of changes in the way people buy products and services. Now, 60% of the buyer’s journey takes place before a salesperson is contacted. This means that before a prospect reaches out, they’ve already done most of their research which means a salesperson is less likely to be able to influence their knowledge.

How can digital channels create human connections?

One clear way that digital social selling parallels social selling of the past, is through the growth of digital connections. This mirrors the concept of growing your network, meeting people at the country club and industry events. This was the way social selling was originally completed.

A good salesperson needed to be part of the right social groups to get a meeting with a warm lead. To get your message across, you needed to know somebody in order to work your way into an organization. Simply getting your message in front of somebody who may be interested in purchasing your products or services was extremely difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.

Today, it is easier than ever before to make connections with people. There are many ways to find qualified leads, both digitally and in the physical world. Social media is leading the revival of social selling and is one of the most effective digital methods for generating leads.

Using social media to make connections

Social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, are a clear indicator that social selling is back like never before. These platforms allow businesses to build connections with potential leads by following and engaging with them on the platform. This parallels the way in which salespeople network in the physical world. In the original wave of social selling, salespeople connected with potential leads by taking them to lunch or some other form of social interaction.

Social networks are more effective at creating these connections for a few reasons.

1. Social media websites have no cost to sign up.

This is a clear cost-savings because you can interact with potential leads at no expense.

2. Social media is a quick way to make a connection

In the original wave of social selling, an invitation to dinner, golf or some event was practically required to get in front of a lead. The prospect might not humor you if the offer does not seem worth the time. That constraint is no more, which takes a burden off company expense accounts.

On social networks, people provide a description of themselves along with their likes. You can also see members of their network. Depending on the platform, different information will be provided. On LinkedIn, for example, people will provide information about their current position, previous jobs, and their professional skill set. That is one of the reasons why B2B sales use LinkedIn to prospect clients. Depending on your niche, who you are prospecting, and what their interests are, you can use different social networks to target leads.

Ratings and Reviews: Connecting the World

Another way that modern social selling mirrors social selling of the past is the growth in popularity of customer reviews. It has never been easier to see what other people think about a business or their product. Websites like Yelp and Google+ have hundreds of millions of users. Yelp users post 26,380 reviews per minute. So, it is likely that your business has already been reviewed many, many times. Reviews are significant because 92% of consumers read online reviews in 2016, up from 2015.  These reviews are important because they can be prospect’s’ first impression of you.

The online review ecosystem reflects another aspect of social selling from the past. Word-of-mouth reviews used to be the only way for leads to get an unfiltered opinion of your business. There are several limitations of word-of-mouth reviews, including the inability to verify the truthfulness of the review. Another limitation is the fact that you must already know (or work hard to seek out) somebody who has done business with the company in question.

Online reviews have given consumers access to more information than ever before. While the truthfulness of reviews is still open to question, brands now have an opportunity to respond. The size of your personal network is no longer a factor in accessing reviews. This means that a potential lead can get opinions on your business from all different customers, regardless of their locations. While these reviews are done online, they are still done by real people and should be considered. There is a good chance your prospective customer will have seen the review.

So how can you combat bad reviews? This article does a great job of examining what to do and what not to do about bad customer reviews.

Content has become less complicated to produce

Another reason that social selling is making a comeback is because reality-based content and entertainment can be easily produced. Digital channels crave content. It’s the fuel that keeps the cycle running smoothly. Without quality, engaging content, digital channels would slow down to a crawl, due to a void of information. For business purposes, content can come in many forms, but for most industries, the content must be based in reality.

Reality-based entertainment and reality-based content have become much easier to produce thanks to improved digital tools. Thanks to a variety of web applications, every picture can look beautiful. Stock photos are high quality and available in droves to ensure engaging images can be added to your content. Video and audio have never been easier to produce. People can create any form of content they want. They no longer need the level of expertise required before technological advances made content creation more accessible.

Today, creating content has never been easier. With improvements in technologies such as cameras, monitors, and editing software, video has become prolific. 78% of people watch online videos every week, 55% watch every day. This form of media has become extremely important in today’s digital environment, partially because it is very engaging, partially because it is easy to create.

It has never been easier to produce content and get it out to the masses. Content allows you to share, comment and otherwise interact with prospects in the digital space by presenting a talking point. This content revolution is changing the way social selling takes place.

How can brands use digital social selling?

There has been an undeniable culture shift over the last decade, with social selling becoming a key linchpin for salespeople. This shift has lead to several brands wondering: “What do we do now?”

There are several key activities for brands to manage when implementing social selling in the digital area.

  • Creating content for your team to disseminate.

Content is one of the most important aspects of social selling. As a form of inbound marketing, social selling should involve building confidence through education. By educating prospects, they will grow to trust you, and when the time is ripe they will seek your business out.

  • Keep Conversations Local

Social selling is most effective when used on a local level. If salespeople have tools that allow them to geo-target their prospects, keeping the conversation local is much easier. These tools are available as part of many larger suites and are immensely valuable to salespeople. Another way to help target local leads is to have location-specific campaigns that speak to common pain-points of the local demographics.

By targeting locally and creating educational material for salespeople to use when social selling, it allows them to limit their conversations to the most qualified prospects possible. This will increase the ROI of your sales efforts by limiting the number of interactions your sales team has with cold leads.

Conclusion

It’s almost ironic that the digital area was once thought to be the domain of isolationist hermits who didn’t want human interaction. Now, it is the place where billions of people go to share information, review products, converse with businesses and make purchase decisions. The landscape has changed, and just like in the 1950’s, social selling is a key tool for any business.

Before the transformation of the digital landscape, golf trips and exclusive events dominated social selling. If you didn’t have a membership at the best local country club or tickets to a hockey game, you would have a very difficult time getting in front of a warm lead. Today, those barriers have become less important. All you need is a digital platform, informational material and the willingness to start a conversation. Social selling today mirrors social selling of the past in many ways and is a tactic that should be considered by financial service professionals.

Do you use social selling to generate leads for your financial service business? Is it still golf trips and hockey tickets or do you use digital platforms? What is your favorite way to use social selling techniques? Do you use Twitter or LinkedIn? If you do follow us on those platforms to hear more news about selling in the digital space!

Social Selling is Not the Same as Social Media

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Social selling is defined by LinkedIn as:

“leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals.”

Now, for many salespeople this seems intuitive, “How else are you going to make sales?” You need a way to meet potential buyers, and cold-calling is a waste of time and money. Therefore, your network is the best way to make sales.

With the way that social media has gained popularity over the past decade, communicating with your network has never been easier. Like Dale Carnegie said in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Social selling follows that theory and applies it to brands. You can get more customers by taking interest in them, building relationships and developing trust than by using interruptive marketing techniques to ingrain your brand name in their head. 

Today, we will discuss several misconceptions about social selling. First, we will examine the misconception that social selling only takes place on social networks. Email, websites, and other forums can be used for social selling as well. Then we will discuss how social selling involves building personal relationships with the prospect. Finally, we will discuss the risks associated with selling on social networks.

1. Social selling does not only take place on social networks

While social selling involves leveraging your social network, it is not exclusively done on social media. Social selling is about building connections with your network, and these connections can be built in many ways. Many interactions will take place on social media, but email, websites, and forums are also great places to engage with your network.

Email
  • Email has its challenges because you first must build a contact list. This list can include clients, but in order to grow your network, you will need people to sign up for your newsletter:
    • You can get people to sign up for your newsletter by putting signup forms in various locations online.
    • To motivate people to sign up, outline the value proposition for your newsletter.
    • Offer subscriber-only incentives for signing up.
  • Once you have a contact list, email is one of the best methods of engagement for a few reasons:
    • Email has the highest ROI of all digital channels.
    • Emails are very personalized.
    • Results from email marketing are easily measurable.
  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.
Websites
  • Publishing content to your website will increase your search rankings. Engaging, informative content draws people to your website (and keeps them engaged). Without content, your website will be nearly undiscoverable for those without the URL.
  • You can engage with your clients on your website or blog. Simply offering a comments section on your blog and asking people to comment their opinions is an effective way to build relationships and engagement.
  • New ways of engagement, such as chat (or chatbots) can entice people to visit and spend more time on your website.
Forums
  • An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.
  • There are many forums online, the largest of which is reddit.com
    • Reddit has many subject-specific forums, from NBA basketball to macrame.
    • Brands can even start a forum about themselves, inviting people to engage in a conversation with you
  • Other forums are focused on a specific subject, you will need to search for an active forum that meets your niche.

Regardless of where you choose to engage, the end goal is to start a conversation and build connections. Each channel you choose to use has their own strengths and weaknesses, so consider your end goals when creating an engagement strategy.

2. Social aspects of selling and customer engagement are about personal connections

To be successful at social selling, you will need to engage your customers in order to build a personal connection. People are far more likely to do business with an entity that they trust. This trust is best built through personifying your brand and putting a human face on your business.

Developing trust with consumers will lead to increased customer loyalty, which in turn will lead to improved customer engagement. Engagement, loyalty, and trust will lead to a more profitable audience, leading to more sales. We see companies who have improved engagement increase cross-sell revenue by 22% and drive up-sell revenue from 13% to 51%.

Social selling involves putting the customer first. Putting the customer first means meeting their needs, listening to their concerns, building a relationship with them and doing what you can to simplify their life. If you can achieve those goals, you will create a personal connection. You no longer will just be “the financial advisor” to your customers. You will be known on a first-name basis. Become part of their network and they will grow to trust you.

3. Social networks may be a lower value place for engagement, viewed as risky or an unsafe place for commerce

Engagement from social media can sometimes be seen as having less value than engagement from other channels. Some brands view social media as risky or an unsafe place for commerce because they cannot control the conversation.

On social media, you have to “go with the flow”. Anyone can say anything, at any time and it’s up to the brand to respond how they see fit. This can lead to some awkward and uncomfortable situations that require a response. The risk of public negative feedback can scare some brands away from using social media.

Some brands also view the engagement from social media to be “cheap”. These brands believe the engagement from social media does not lead to sales. 56% of businesses said they are unable to tie social media to business outcomes for one reason or another. Recently, various platforms such as Facebook have come under attack for having misleading analytics. The recent controversies have made the platforms even more questionable for marketers. At the end of the day, social media still is an excellent way to reach younger demographics, share content and engage with your audience.

While some brands feel social media is of low-value, it cannot be ignored that several brands have done an excellent job leveraging social media for their businesses. Dove, Netflix, and Coca-Cola are just three examples of brands who have successfully leveraged social media to start a conversation. There is absolutely nothing stopping a brand in finance from doing the same and becoming a social media superstar.

Implications: Firms need to consider broader context for social engagement strategies

You will need to consider a very wide-reaching strategy to get the most out of social selling.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, are an excellent way to grow your network and share content. Email is a great method to re-engage with previous customers, keep prospective clients updated on new information, and maintain brand awareness in the minds of your readers. Forums, such as Reddit, can be used to find like-minded individuals and build connections with them, drawing them into your network.

If you don’t consider the main use case of whatever medium you are using and the context in which you attempt to engage, your social engagement strategy may seem erratic. Your goal is to build a relationship and gain trust. In order to do that, every interaction must feel natural and unforced.

So, what are your favorite strategies for social selling? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @VeridayHQ.

The Human Brand: How Personal Connections Shaped the World

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At Veriday, our team has recently been reading The Human Brand, written by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske. The book looks at branding through the lens of a psychological scientist to see how branding can have an effect on customer loyalty and retention. We believe that personal branding is key to gaining and retaining customers by offering them personalized experiences that establish human relationships in an increasingly digital world. We are striving to facilitate those relationships in financial services through technology solutions that allow personalized marketing to remain compliant.

The introduction of the book is very informative and uses several engaging examples to explain the thesis of the book. Today, we are going to take a look at the first documented brands and why they were needed. We will also look at the status-quo before brands became commonplace and discuss the proliferation of branding, both corporate and personal, in the increasingly digital world.

Trademarks: Branding Post-Industrial Revolution

Brands have been around for a very long time. In 1882, French painter Édouard Manet painted the masterpiece, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. On the right side of the painting, there is a bottle of ale with a trademark for the British brewer Bass & Co. It’s believed that this was the first commercial trademark in a piece of fine art.

It is fitting that the first use of a trademark in fine art took place during the industrial revolution; where for the first time, people were buying goods of unknown origins. Before industrialization, people purchased (or traded) goods from other members of the community. When you bought bread, you knew the baker personally. Maybe you even had a social relationship with them. That relationship meant that there was some level of trust behind the transaction. In the book, it’s framed as “buying the person behind the product along with the product itself.” 

Since the industrial revolution, we do not have relationships with the merchants and manufacturers of our goods. Before the advent of social media, there was no way to hold them accountable. If there is not a way to hold companies accountable, there is less incentive to treat your customers with respect. With no incentive to treat customers well, some businesses feel like they can employ predatory practices. 

Trademarks originated as a way for customers to know where their goods were coming from. They replaced the personal relationship with manufacturers that was the norm pre-industrial revolution.

Social Relationships: What Branding Replaced

Back when everybody knew the people who made their goods, an interesting practice took place. Commercial sales of bread needed to be at least a certain weight or the baker would face grave social consequences. To be safe, bakers would add an extra roll or two into every batch. This is where the term “baker’s dozen” comes from.

In the days when everybody knew their baker, if a baker shorted their customer, the information would be spread around the community, and their reputation would be ruined. The baker who undersold bread would face social humiliation and business consequences. The threat of these consequences provided enough social pressure to keep people honest. The authors of The Human Brand concluded that:

“Merchants accepted that the relationship they had with their customers were critical to survival, and they either learned to nurture those relationships or their business would fail.”

175 years ago, merchants could see the value in building relationships with their customers. Because of the industrial revolution and the rise in manufacturing centers, merchants and customers grew apart. Customer-merchant relationships are no longer as close as they once were.

The authors propose that social networks have made the world more closely connected. Social networks have reestablished the social consequences of providing a low-quality product. Social accountability is here to stay. Customers can now influence outcomes that used to be far beyond their control. Thanks to social networks, there is instant karma. If a company does something dishonest, the whole world will know almost immediately.

Humanization of Brands

The authors introduced a case study of when the Montgomery Ward company tried to humanize their mail-order catalogue. They included pictures of the company’s founders and other executives, with their signatures underneath the pictures. They were trying to humanize the brand by evoking a human connection with the readers. Their attempt to humanize the brand was meant to solve the “unknown hands” issue that was present since the industrial revolution. In the book, the authors showed this note from a Montgomery Ward customer:

“I suppose you wonder why we haven’t ordered anything from you since the fall. Well, the cow kicked my arm and broke it and besides my wife was sick, and there was the doctor bill. But now, thank God, that is paid, and we are all well again, and we have a fat new baby boy, and please send plush bonnet number 29d8077 . . . “

This note clearly illustrates that their efforts to humanize their brand were successful. The customer replied as if they were responding to their local shopkeeper despite the fact that the note was sent in a mass-selling situation. It would be the equivalent of sending a personalized letter to a mass retailer like Wal-Mart or Amazon today. Building relationships with your customers and evoking emotions by providing a human connection can increase customer loyalty.

There need to be consequences for brands when they misbehave. In the days before the industrial revolution, manufacturers had social relationships with their patrons. If they acted dishonestly, word would spread through the community and ruin the merchant’s reputation. In today’s digital world, social media has almost the same function.

Conclusion

A lot has changed since the industrial revolution. The world went from local sales and personal relationships with every merchant to mass-selling and no connection with merchants thanks to the increased manufacturing capacity brought by technological change. Since social networks have gained popularity, merchants have started to build relationships with their customers online. We have seen a revival in social accountability, meaning that bad customer experiences get shared across the web, resulting in bad publicity for the offending business.

This connectivity is not without its challenges. Brands now need to make special considerations on how to naturally engage with their customers online. Brands have to make plans for dealing with upset customers online or risk a media firestorm. Relationships in business are back to a new, never-before-seen level. You will need to nurture and grow your client relationships or be left behind in the increasingly social world.

The Human Brand discusses the challenges of humanizing your brand in today’s social age. It is a great read for any marketer. Have you read this book? What were your biggest takeaways? As always, let us know on Twitter @VeridayHQ

The Human Side of Digital Engagement

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Over the last decade, digital engagement has become an integral part of any marketing strategy. As the internet has grown from an academic and military repository to the hub for commerce, engagement, and content, people have changed their expectations about online experiences.

In fact, expectations have changed so much that, according to Gartner, 85% of customer interactions are predicted to happen without human contact by 2020. If you are rushing to automate your processes, hold your horses. There is still a human side of digital engagement; one that is absolutely critical to the success of your customer engagement strategy.

Here are four ways that humans can influence your digital engagement efforts:

1. Customers expect human interaction as an option

Human interaction is still a very important part of any customer service and engagement strategy. While there are many instances in which a consumer would like an automated experience there are still many where human interaction is still needed. 83% of U.S. consumers still prefer talking to a human instead of resolving issues over digital channels.

Are consumers willing to pay more for help from a real person? It appears that for the most part, they are. According to the Financial Brand, 38.2% of consumers are willing to pay more and 37% of consumers do not have an opinion on the matter.

Consumers Willing to Pay for Help: Digital Engagement

This fact can be taken advantage of by offering various levels of service. Consider an advisor that offers access to robo-advice for a small fee, but no in-person time with the advisor themself. That advisor can attract one niche to their business by offering robo-advice as a low-cost option, aimed at a certain type of investors. That same advisor could market their “full-service” package to more affluent investors and charge a higher fee. The “full service” option could include personal, in-person advice from the advisor themself along with other “premium” features. This would allow the financial advisor to market their services to two different niches, all at different price points.

While digital channels are very important there still needs to be a way to offer human interaction to every customer who wants it. Some are even willing to pay for it.

The need for human interaction is especially true for complex issues:

2. Complexity: Associated with Human Interaction

A Forrester study about self-service found the following statistics:

  • Use of the help/FAQ pages on a company’s website for customer service increased from 67% in 2012 to 76% in 2014 while phone interactions have remained constant at a 73% usage rate.
  • Online chat adoption continues to rise – from 38% in 2009 to 43% in 2012 to 58% in 2014.
  • The use of communities and virtual agents jumped by over 10 percentage points each.

These statistics show that while self-service problem solving is still growing in popularity, the option to talk to a real person is still very important. Self-service solutions such as FAQs can only solve basic problems. A real person, either over the phone or through some digital communication channel, can suss out more complex problems and help implement solutions.

Some customers prefer to ask their questions over the phone. 27% of consumers prefer to ask commercial questions over the phone (pre-sale) and 35% of post-sale customers prefer to do the same.

Regardless of the communication channel customers want the option for a personal touch.

3. Consumers prefer human context inside a brand

In the Kurt Vonnegut novel, Player Piano (1951), the world was mostly automated, with only engineers and doctors remaining employed. Everything in the world is operated by robots except for restaurants and barbershops. Waiters and barbers were able to stay employed because the working elite felt that replacing them would make dinner and haircuts become too “impersonal”.

Even in a dystopian novel written far before the age of customer engagement, some level of human interaction is absolutely necessary. The same idea goes in business today. When your customer comes into your office, you should greet them as if they were an old friend. They should be able to get to know the people that are providing their financial services.

Reach out to your customers. Start a conversation with them. Answer their questions. Provide human context by mentioning something about employees, customers, partners or thought leaders. Show the customer that your brand lives in the same world that they do.

For more information on the benefits of personifying your brand, check out our article on brand personification.

4. Improving Customer Experience (CX)

Providing human interaction is a way to ensure a balanced engagement strategy. Take, for example, this chart by the Financial Brand  that takes a look at what banks think the biggest opportunities for CX improvements were over the past year:

Biggest opportunities for CX improvements in the next year in Digital Engagement

While improving websites was the #1 priority, employee development and call centre improvements are the next two distinct options.

This shows that while a digital presence is important, there are plenty of opportunities to improve the quality of human interactions in banking. Human interactions are very important to consider when planning customer experiences. Financial institutions realize that employees are one of their biggest assets and they wish to develop them even further. Employees are not digital but they are one of the most effective ways to supplement digital channels through human-to-human interaction.

According to Gallup, retail banking customers who are fully engaged bring 37% more annual revenue to their primary bank than actively disengaged customers. Just under a quarter of banks believe they can develop their employees to provide better experiences to their customers. Providing better experiences will increase customer engagement which will lead to more revenue for your business.

Conclusions

Humans play a critical part in digital engagement. People are not ready for a world in which there is no human interaction in business, in fact, the opposite may be true. Many people have had their fill of digital-only experiences and are looking for more human-to-human interaction. Some people want a combination of both. Regardless, you should ensure that you can offer human-to-human relationships to customers who want those experiences. From helping customers traverse complex situations, to dealing with complaints, to putting a smiling face on your brand, people can do a lot for your branding efforts. Your customers will have a better experience if a human is there to empathize with them while solving their problems. Banks and other financial service professionals have been putting forth the effort to bring higher quality interactions to their customers. 

Do you provide a human face to your digital engagement strategy? Let us know over on Twitter @VeridayHQ how human interaction has helped your customers get a better experience. Every brand can benefit from a little bit of humanization.

Brand Personification: Why Should You Care?

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The financial service industry has traditionally relied on word-of-mouth marketing to attract business. Financial advisors and other agents would rely on referrals from their current clients to gain new clients. These marketing methods are becoming antiquated, thanks in large part to a fundamental change in how people research and purchase services.  These days, people engage in online research to determine which service provider fits their needs. This change in the decision making process has lead to the proliferation of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing involves creating and sharing content in an attempt to gain visibility with search engines. You must earn your website traffic in an increasingly competitive landscape by focusing on SEO, creating quality content, and utilizing social media to spread your message. Brand personification is a method to help make your inbound marketing efforts feel more natural. A company and brand can feel like a faceless entity, which will discourage people from engaging with you. Thanks to this fundamental shift, we decided to learn a little bit more about brand personification in the financial service industry.

We sat down with the CEO of Veriday, Marc Lamoureux, to ask a few questions about brand personification in the financial service industry. Marc has years of experience helping financial service providers personify their brands and effectively engage with their customers while maintaining compliance.

During the course of our conversation, we asked Marc several questions regarding the benefits of brand personification in the financial service industry. From his experience, Marc discussed basic facets of personification and eventually progressed into the finer details and specific benefits of brand personification.  

Here is the transcript from our conversation:

Rob Glenn: What does brand personification mean to you?

Marc Lamoureux: Brand personification involves adding a human element to a brand. A brand on its own is inanimate, so we want to add a human element to the brand. We know humans want to connect with people, so if your brand has human qualities you can build a better connection with your customers.

Rob: Why should companies care about brand personification?

Marc: We should care because in the last twenty years, the way technology has gone, there has been a lack of human connection between brands and their customers. At the same time, social networks have seen a monumental surge in popularity. Those social networks represent the opposite of what has happened with technologies. As technology makes everyday experiences more impersonal, social networks are about connecting people. As a brand your goal is to figure how to connect with people using technology. That is the problem that lies at the heart of brand personification.

Rob: What benefits can be realized by associating real people with a brand?

Marc: The main benefit of associating people with your brand is that it creates a stronger connection with your customers. By associating real people with your brand you can develop trust between real people and your brand. When you build a stronger connection with your customers, you end up keeping more of the customers you already have, in addition to gain new customers.

Rob: How does personifying your brand effect where and how you deliver your messaging?

Marc:  I think personifying your brand brings you into the local community. The strategy we recommend, here at Veriday, involves aligning local representatives of your brand with a local customer. When you do that, you get a much stronger connection and you feel like you are part of the community, not just a large, faceless presence.

Rob: Do you think that engaging in brand personification opens new engagement channels for companies?

Marc: Yes. I think you have a lot more flexibility and capability when you add personification to your brand. Take email for example:

In an email world, a customer may receive an email from a generic brand. They may not recognize the brand, or they may not trust the email. They’re naturally going to suspect a generic sales email. Contrast that with an email from an individual associated with the brand, someone that the reader is familiar with. They are almost 3 times more likely to open that email and do something with it because it comes from someone they know and trust.

Rob: How does brand personification help drive real engagement?

Marc:  I think brand personification is a strategy that is going to provide a must stronger connection to customers. In the market today, when customers are looking at your website, the standard “contact us” option is a 1-800 number or a form you fill out and wait for a response. At Veriday, we would advocate for a “contact me” button, directing customers to a specific individual. They will know who they are speaking with, and sometimes they can be offered a choice of who they wish to contact. That will instill a level of trust in the customer, because they can research that person and make the engagement themselves. For an organization, it’s a more productive way to engage with the customer. You will experience a lot less abandonment with that strategy.

Rob: Which technology solutions can aid in the personification of a brand?

Marc: I think at a high level, you can employ this solution on social networks, on web, and in email. At Veriday, we have created a product called Digital Agent, which was designed expressly for brand personification. It organizes all your brand and marketing strategies and aligns them with your people, to create more trusted human connections across social, web and email.

Rob: Will brand personification add to compliance costs?

Marc: One of the perceived challenges of expanding your marketing programs out through individuals, is that it creates a very expensive burden on compliance reviews, especially in financial services. Regulators are asking financial service companies to review and approve every piece of content that is distributed to customers. The benefit of the compliance workflow that Veriday provides, is that we can increase the volume of personification in the engagement models without dramatically increasing compliance costs.

Rob: How will personifying my brand affect how I attract clients and grow my business?

Marc: The advantage you get as an organization (from personification), is that you can associate real people immediately with a customer inquiry. When a customer researches your company, they will immediately find a human connection. If they are engaging with 1-800 numbers, or online forms, where they don’t know who is going to call them back, they are less likely to take advantage of the engagement model.

Rob: From your experience, how do customers respond to a humanized brand?

Marc: Is a customer more likely to engage with Facebook.com directly or with their friends on Facebook? They are more likely to engage with friends. We view brand personification as evoking the same strategy. A customer is more likely to engage with somebody they know, compared to a brand or somebody they don’t know.

Rob: What happens when you activate the people within your organization to engage with customers?

Marc: When you activate your human resources in engaging with customer you do two things:

  1. You create stronger connections with customers and the customers have a comfortable place of trust to engage with your business. That is a very positive advantage.

2. Another thing you get to do (in terms of analytics) is making decisions about the success of your engagement efforts. You might see hotspots where there is great engagement. That information can be used to glean interesting insights to try to recreate those circumstances elsewhere. Therefore, you also may see some weak spots, where you may need to alter various aspects of your strategy.

That wraps up the conversation with Marc Lamoureux, CEO of Veriday. His insights on brand personification inspired the creation of our article: Being Yourself: Why Brand Personification Increases Customer Engagement.

Does your brand engage in personification? How have you enabled your human resources to offer a more personal experience? Let us know on Twitter @VeridayHQ or on LinkedIn.

Being Yourself: Why Brand Personification Increases Customer Engagement

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“Over the last twenty years, with the way technology has gone, there has been a lack of connection between brands and their customers. At the same time, social networks have become ubiquitous in everyday life. These social networks have stepped up, and are now the biggest way in which people stay connected. This means that brands need to find ways to connect with people using technology. That’s where personification comes in, it makes it possible to build that connection between a brand and a customer online.” – Marc Lamoureux

Brand personification is one of the biggest trends in digital marketing today. Seemingly every brand, from StubHub and Disney, to boutique B2B operations have been trying to figure out how they can more effectively personify their brand and engagements. To research the subject, I sat down with Veriday’s CEO, Marc Lamoureux, who has been working with companies who are looking to improve customer engagement using personal and scalable solutions.

When we think of a person, what do we think of? Naturally, we think of demographic descriptors to describe that person. Similarly, just as a person will have certain characteristics that define them, so will a brand.  

Why is this important? Because consumers are more likely to identify and stay loyal with brands that closely resemble themselves in terms of personality. So, how can we build our brand to connect our values and goals with those of our customers while having valuable conversations with them? This is where brand personification comes in.

What is Brand Personification?

Brand personification is a projective technique where people think about brands as if they were people, and describe how they would think and feel. Research suggests that personifying a brand and giving the brand distinct human qualities will help people connect better with the company. Similar to human relationships, this more personal connection can lead to a dialogue, and ultimately the formation of a loyal relationship.

When personifying your brand, you should focus on authenticity, painting an accurate picture of what you and your business represent. If you force characteristics on yourself that simply aren’t present in the organization, people will notice. Instead of forcing those characteristics on yourself, leverage your team to help tell stories that accurately reflect your brand and company culture.

Marketingwise, the goal of brand personification is to better connect your brand with values, goals, and customers. 66% of all customers want human interaction in their experiences.  In retail banking, fully engaged customers bring in 37% more annual revenue. It is clear that engaged customers are better customers, so it’s important to get to know our customers, and engage them in a personal way.

Challenges with Brand Personification

Brand personification has its challenges, especially in highly regulated sectors such as finance. As a dealer-broker or a financial advisor, you need to be aware of compliance rules and regulations, including how your brand and messaging fits in with those rules. For example, under FINRA, you must keep a record of all communications. While it is still possible to personify your brand under FINRA, you must be careful to maintain records of every single communication. Marc added:

“One of the perceived challenges of expanding your marketing programs and personifying your brand, through your people, is that it creates a really expensive burden on compliance reviews. In some sectors the burden is larger than in others. Regulators are asking financial service companies to vet every piece of content that is distributed to the public.”

While there are ways to streamline compliance challenges, it is still an inefficiency that needs to be dealt with at some point if you want to get your brand personification efforts off the ground.

The backlash it can cause is another concern regarding brand personification. In a study by Oregon State University, it was found that brands that have been “humanized” will often be held to higher standards than non-humanized brands. The study found that when something went wrong, humanized brands were seen as doing it on purpose.

These issues and concerns need to be taken into consideration when creating a personification strategy. However, If done carefully and effectively, humanizing your brand will increase customer engagement, loyalty, and retention.

How do Customers Respond?

In general, customers respond positively to brand personification. Human-to-human interaction is well received in a world that has become more and more automated and transactional, with technology solutions replacing human interactions.

Humanized branding allows brands to start a conversation with customers. Instead of strict, on-brand propaganda, starting a conversation can put a brand in a more favorable light. A brand that has engaged in personification has the opportunity to be seen as a friend, or at very least a member of the community, as opposed to being viewed as a faceless monolith. Consumers are naturally attracted to humanized brands that they can connect with. You can attract consumers to your business by having similar personalities, values, characteristics or beliefs to them.

In today’s competitive landscape, this extra opportunity to connect and engage with your customers is needed. Social media means that there is constantly a conversation happening online, and you need to be a part of it. If you aren’t there to tell stories about your brand and culture, to many you won’t exist.

Giving your brand human qualities helps you participate in the online conversation. Find your community, the group of people that you wish to do business with, and take part in their conversations. If your brand becomes a reliable and valuable information source for your community, they will grow to trust you.

Building the trust, nurturing the relationship and becoming part of the community can take some time. It is important to remember that social interactions can drive other behaviours. The work involved with developing authentic relationships with the community will pay off down the road.

What Benefits Does Brand Personification Bring?

Your business can see many tangible benefits by personifying your brand, as long as you do it authentically. Here are some ways in which personification can benefit your brand:

  1. Associates real people with your business.
    • Consumers prefer interactions where a real person is on the other end of the conversation.
  2. Differentiates yourself from the competition.

    • People tend to have positive associations with brands that were consistent with their own identity.
    • Your niche is more likely to do business with you if your brand has similar convictions as them.
  3. Aggregate strengths of real people to your brand.
    • Use the skills and personalities of your team to create a well-rounded brand persona.
    • Your brand can have all the skills and traits of your team.

Personifying Your Brand In Financial Services

In financial services, customers don’t want a 100% transactional relationship. There was a time when everybody knew the names of their bankers at their local bank. Today, this type of relationship with our customers is far less common. As technologies such as ATMs, telephone, online and mobile banking has become ubiquitous, relationships with customers have become less personal, less valuable, and less engaging than they once were. Technology has been putting the industry at risk of becoming too transactional, with a lack of humanization. Due to the sensitive and complex nature of the relationship, customers need to be able to trust their FinServ provider.

The only way to build relationships with customers (and potential customers) is by engaging with them in personal, relevant, and valuable ways. Connect to customers using your people and give your business a personality.

The only major difference in implementing brand personification techniques for financial services is the compliance aspect of it, which can be overcome using specific solutions in the marketplace.

Marc had a great anecdote to summarize brand personification when he said:

“Would you be more likely to engage with Facebook.com (the website) or engage with your friends on Facebook? We view brand personification as invoking the same strategy. A customer is more likely to engage with their friends or real people than a brand that they don’t know.”

The whole idea of personifying (or humanizing) your brand, is to gain that connection that used to be very common in all types of commerce. Back when the social relationship between two parties drove loyalty. Personifying your brand is a strategy for you to be seen as “the friendly neighbourhood RIA” or “the insurance broker down the street”.

What efforts have you gone through to personify your brand? Were those efforts worth it? Let us know on Twitter @VeridayHQ. What topics do you want to learn more about? Let us know and we will take your suggestions into account.

The Healing Power of Coffee

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We can debate the health merits of coffee and tea but there is no doubt that its availability and consumption is connected to employee satisfaction, culture and, to a lesser degree, performance. The office coffee ecosystem is simple and sometimes appears way too vital to the daily operation.

Like many companies we have a coffee service that keeps our shelves loaded and these days delivers almost every week. We have grown to trust that just as the boxes start to empty and all that remains is the decaf and green tea supply (no offense to those who subscribe to those flavours). The next day, our trusty coffee vendor will arrive with a fully loaded shipment to fill the shelves once again.

These routines for most of us are so entrenched that significant disruptions and distress is most noticeable when our coffee supplies are low, and we all forgot that Helen was on vacation. You see Helen has assumed the unofficial responsibility of coffee orderer for our office. Even though she is a talented developer and a very senior member of our team one of her most critical connections to our organization is the coffee monitoring work that she does. Our team unknowingly depends on her to keep a close watch on the coffee pod inventory so they can maintain their morning or hourly routines.

Active monitoring and business continuity planning are a key component of our service delivery model that we provide to our customers. We have actually developed the same technique to provide coffee in the event of us forgetting that Helen is away. You see we have a secret stash of coffee and generic pod system that provides 3 days emergency rations so we can survive while one of us manages to place an urgent order with our supplier. So, while not a perfect system, it preserves a critical piece of our operation.

 

The Greater Good

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We just got these new whiteboards and they big and heavy! The bad news is we did not hire anyone to install them. Currently, we’re using them while they are leaned up against our walls. Now that we’re growing, we need to mount them on the wall to take back the extra space. Without question, our team gets together, grabs all the necessary tools, a few screws and voila, we suddenly have these huge amazing white boards for future planning and brainstorming!

Delegation is viewed as a necessity for growth but more importantly for growing companies it’s about getting work done and not necessarily being concerned with roles and responsibilities at all times. Knowing that your peers will do what is required to advance the business creates a strong team culture. As an organization matures, this kind of work is a nuisance but occasionally helps set the standard for working together.

Our whiteboard experience is one of those tasks that just needed to get done. We do the same for our clients – whatever it takes and however long it takes is the right thing to do. After a while, you begin to learn that if you invest in doing the right things for people with less regard for your own status, it will return to you in the form of loyalty and reinforce your principles.

Putting up a whiteboard seems like a burden, but at Veriday, it represents something greater.