It Takes An
Emotional Connection

by Bette Price

   Price is rarely the reason customers refuse to buy. It's an excuse, but rarely the key reason. Chances are, if you can't get past "no," you haven't been able to emotionally connect with your prospective buyer. Research has long shown that despite seemingly practical and logical rationale, people make their buying decisions based on emotions. So, beyond such considerations as targeting the right customer and making a compelling offer, what do you need to do to ensure that you make an emotional connection? Here are five things to keep in mind:

Your message must have relevance.

   To be relevant, your message must have meaning to your customer to make an emotional connection. Speed of transactions, convenience, the fact that your firm provides great customer service, are all irrelevant if the customer doesn't understand from their own perspective what your product or service means to them personally. That means finding out what your buyer's true emotional need is. Is your sales presentation meaningful and of interest to each and every individual customer? Relevant communication makes your customer feel like you truly know them, know their problems and value them enough to show how you can help solve their problems. Generic information just doesn't make that connection.

Your message must be delivered at the right time.

   Ideally, you'll communicate the right message to the right person at the right time. And, it is important that the timing be right for the customer's life cycle. That means really knowing what's going on in your customer's business cycle. Key into high points in a customer's relationship with your company. For example, during the customer acquisition stage, follow-up notes thanking the prospect for their time is one way to maximize an emotional high point. If you are in the assimilation stage, an incentive to activate can be a high point for new customers. As you continue to cultivate the relationship opportunities to create emotional high points you can include such things as referral requests and follow-up thank you notes, newsletters with valuable, usable content, customer satisfaction surveys and targeted cross-sell information. Even when the door seems to be closed, an acknowledgement that the customer is valued and missed provides a touch point as does a note to let the customer know that although timing isn't right now, "the door is always open."

Pay attention to the sender/receiver relationship.

   Just as important as what your message says and when it is received is who the message is from. Particularly when it's a personal message from your organization. For example, a mass mailed promotional letter signed by the CEO of your company has little emotional connection if the CEO is far removed from the customer. On the other hand, a well timed note from the salesperson to that same customer will be very meaningful. If a problem has occurred with the customer, this is the appropriate time for a personal touch point from someone the customer has had contact with-not merely a faceless customer service representative. Personalizing the initial communication can make a huge difference in customer retention during times of misunderstandings.

Be careful of frequency.

   When a customer feels that they are bombarded with calls, flyers, e-mail updates, special promotional mailings, etc. not only is it not cost effective, but your messages can be taken as insincere. A general rule of thumb suggests that your highest value customers should receive more frequent contact than less profitable customers. Staying in front of customers with some communication at least quarterly is the minimum amount of time. If you're not in front of your customers that frequently, you'll risk them forgetting you and going to your competition.

Be sure your communication has perceived value.

   Every contact, regardless of whether its your best customer or one you are still trying to recruit, must have a minimum value to the customer-it must be relevant. The communication must be worth their time rather than seen as just another push to get business. For example, during the holiday season, high value customers might be sent gifts (if that's allowed by the client company), while lower value customers might receive a holiday card. Always expect to "sow before you reap" by building the relationship first. Then to retain the customer and grow referrals, consider a loyalty program-but if you do, make it relevant.
   One last note: The Harte-Hanks' National Study of Customer Loyalty found that the majority of customers (87 percent) prefer to hear about new products and services by direct mail versus personal visits, phone calls, or e-mail communications. Even more specifically, personal letters, notes, and greetings were found to be ideal vehicles for these emotion-driven messages. More about this later. But, suffice it to say, you can't beat personal attention to connect emotionally and build loyal, long-term customers.