Consumers Demand Brand Authenticity: How Technology Can Help


Andrew Reid is the CEO and founder of Rival Technologies, a mobile market research platform and one of Canada’s hottest startups.

By now, we’re all familiar with the problems in our supply chain: goods disappearing from store shelves or cargo ships idling off our shores. But one of the thornier supply problems in recent months has to be the missing workers, those selling the goods, providing the services and staffing the call centers.

Some are calling it the Great Resignation, noting how, in November of 2021, a record 4.5 million workers quit in the U.S., with those critical, customer-facing positions taking one of the biggest hits. The labor shortage comes at a pivotal time, with recent surveys showing a deterioration in the perception of customer service and trust in national brands. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 88% of consumers surveyed said “trust” is critical when deciding which brands to buy or use; customer service scored 85%.

So, how do you get customers to trust you at a time when you’re struggling to staff up in key positions? How do you keep them loyal when they’re angry or frustrated?

Just like everybody else, I’m constantly getting updates about orders being delayed—and usually, it doesn’t result in a good brand experience. Still, the opportunity is there for something positive—if brands learn how to leverage technology in a way that authentically speaks to a customer’s needs.

Focus on human values in the digital age.

In the Before Times, marketing and customer service were all about “the plan.” If a person consumes this, we send them that; if they say X, we reply with Y or Z. Whatever it took to convert that consumer into a customer—or prevent that customer from leaving you.

But in this post-pandemic era (appearing over the horizon), it’s no longer about the one-time sale but rather the ongoing relationship. Brands need to accept that the world is changing in profound ways—and the ways in which you interact with customers have to change, too.

Don’t wait for them to reach out to you in desperation, frustration or anger. Instead, proactively start a dialogue with them, using conversational approaches (through social media and messaging apps) that surface what’s important to them. Try interactive video or QR codes in your stores to share your brand story, answer questions or concerns they might have—and ultimately point them in the right direction.

And when a customer does reach out in anger—be it by email, SMS chat or social media—make sure to humanize the experience. As a quartet of authors from Applied Marketing Science explained in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, “personalizing a message by typing a few extra characters can make a huge difference.” Surveyed airline customers who received an unsigned response “showed no detectable increase in willingness to pay” compared to the general population. However, when customer service reps added their name or initials, that willingness to pay “increased by $14 for a future flight.”

Four years ago, when that study was conducted, attaching a name to a message was best practice; today, consider how a video of the company’s service rep might be used to say a few words or to wave hello. In 2022, brands need to be creative in how they personalize communications and learn to speak in a unique voice with each customer.

Aim for authenticity—even when it hurts.

Brands also need to let their guard down and admit when they fall short of expectations. That’s borne out by countless surveys undertaken during the pandemic, including one by Ipsos in May 2020 that found over 90% of consumers think it is important that a brand “acknowledges when it is wrong” and that it “treats me like a human being.”

I wear one of these armbands that analyzes things like your heart rate variability, resting heart rate and sleep performance. Immediately after placing my order, I received this great email from the company, explaining that, while they strive to be the best company they can, due to supply chain issues, “We can’t be that company for a while. We’re upset about it too. It sucks. But we’re doing everything we can to get your product to you soon!”

They got it right, and this points the way to how brands can change the narrative in this age of scarcity. Instead of sticking to a script—we’re great, we have a sale right now, check out our new product—try showing empathy. Try checking in with the customer and getting real with them, sharing good news and bad. When they’re upset—well, you should be too.

Every second you have with customers is an opportunity to build a relationship—in a proactive, empathetic and positive manner. Technology is only a net positive when we can humanize the interaction and make consumers feel heard—and not just in the minutes before they threaten to leave you. Goods and workers might be in short supply for a little while longer, but the supply of goodwill should never run out.


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