The power to smile in a digital world

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Mirum and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

What does true customer service look like?

Marketing is edging ever-closer to customer service, and vice-versa. That may not be anything new, as you go to work, buy your holiday gifts and start thinking about how you’re going to affect the brand that you work for in the coming year (and, hopefully, beyond). Still, it’s something that most companies are not thinking about (enough). They’re certainly not making any massive moves, by forcing departments and silos to disappear in an effort to better reflect what seems like a very logical statement. For many (bigger) organizations, customer service is the group charged with ensuring that corporate policies are met with (and managed) down to the consumer.

In many instances, what we’re really saying (at a tactical level), is that the customer service department manages the people and the technology to create a level of “fairness” in the eyes of customers that have an issue with our products and services. It’s also the place that is forced to do this in shortest amount of time possible with the least amount of financial loss.

We can all agree, that this needs a radical overhaul, right?

Not everyone wants to friend, follow, like, and engage with the brands that they do business with. This is true… on many levels. It’s also very false (or misleading) in terms of true application.

Why? Well, for the most part, businesses are things that we — the humans of Earth — have transactions with. When there’s an issue, we’re hopeful that we can get an empathetic ear from the corporation. We’re less interested in corporate policies, how brands do things, or more. And, even if our issue can’t be resolved, we want that high level of empathy. When we get it, we do become that much more loyal and true to the brand.

As much as people say they don’t want/need these kind of connections to brands, we do love the things that we love. So, while it may not be relevant to breakfast cereal, for you and me, it could well be just that type of brand that other consumers would put on their “brands that I love” list.

Blame Oprah.

I kid. But, not really. Whether you’re a fan of Oprah or not, it’s hard to argue that her show — and subsequent impact on society — has led many of us to be more open about our feelings. This has led to us being more empathetic (there’s that word again) and vulnerable (special thanks to Brene Brown for that one). This, is a good thing. This, is a great thing. We can be more human. We have become more humane now. This has trickled in business. More than most people care to admit.

How many Facebook accounts do you have?

“Should I have one Facebook account for my personal life, and one for work? I’m not sure if I want to link my friends with the people that I work with.” I used to get asked this question a lot. I bet this is something that you had considered at one point in the past. Now, it seems silly… or not as relevant. Doesn’t it? We’re quickly realizing that who we are… is who we are. How we engage — and how we connect — is no longer divided between our physical selves and our digital profiles.

I tweet, therefore I am.

I have been smiling at strangers a lot lately. Not in a creepy/stalky kind of way, bit in a “yes, I see you,” kind of way. I mostly do this to people who seem stuck in their day… or their routine… or something that they just read on their iPhone changed their physical mood. A lot of them smile back. It’s a connection. Something simple. Something real.

It’s something that I didn’t do before (too often). I don’t do nearly enough of it on digital channels. I don’t “like” enough things that you post. I’m not great at sending you a digital high-five on the comments. I don’t tweet back at people to say “thank you.” People like Gary Vaynerchuk, Scott Stratten, and Gini Dietrich do this so well. It’s like watching poetry in motion. Seriously.

What does this have to do with customer service?

Everything. This is where it all starts. Customer service is not the ethos of the CEO passed down to everyone. Customer service is not the rules, policies, and regulations in the field guides. Customer service… great customer service start with a smile. Great in physical environments. Great in digital environments. A smile is a thank you. A smile is a connection. A smile lets a customer know that you see them. A smile can change a lot of things that suddenly went wrong.

Think about how smiling can and will change you, the customer you’re connecting with, and — with any luck — how your business really connects. Let’s not forget that customer service is all about how we serve our clients. Smiles are probably more contagious and viral than most of our marketing initiatives.

If it doesn’t start with a smile (and this includes a digital one), then what?

About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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