Engagement two point zero.

The art and value of customer connection

It’s easy to think that Apple started it, with their original “fanboy” evangelists and cult-like following, but that’s probably because we tend to think Apple invented everything. In truth though, the potential for that level of almost rabid loyalty, for that deep and visceral customer connection, has been around, well, forever.

Whether you were a mod or a rocker, a Red or a Blue, a Roundhead or a Cavalier, that sense of connection and identification to a community, an institution, a personality, it’s something we’ve all experienced at some time or another. Some of us still do.

Apple, Marvel, Tesla, even Trump, they’re all just plugging in to an open circuit we’ve had for millennia. A human mental circuit that wants to connect with organisations and people who like what we like and think how we think, who connect with us at a deeper, more personal, more emotional level.

Our tribe. Our community. Our people.

This level of connection and consequent loyalty goes far beyond what most organisations typically mean when they talk about customer or staff engagement. These folks don’t see their loyalty scores drop when they screw up, often they actually go up as fans leap to their defence.

We could be forgiven for thinking that these organisations are just on a different plane – a level that’s irrelevant to us because it’s impossible for a retail chain or a widget maker to even imagine, let alone achieve.

But it is imaginable. It is achievable. Because we are all human.

The only reason some independent cinemas survived through lockdown is because customers gave them money anyway. Those beloved restaurants and cherished local businesses who were unafraid to ask, often found unexpected levels of support and generosity flowing from their customers.

It wasn’t through luck. It wasn’t through creative genius. They may have found mildly innovative ways to enable those customers to support them, through membership or takeaways or whatever, but that’s not what really saved them.

What saved them was their investment in connection often built up over years, through a myriad interactions, individual moments of genuine caring and sharing. Their front-line people, connecting with their customers on a personal, human level.

And just like engagement, connection starts from the inside. You wouldn’t expect staff to be able to really engage customers if they, themselves aren’t engaged. Nor can they possibly connect customers emotionally with your business and its purpose, if they don’t feel a strong emotional connection with it themselves.

You can’t fake connection, but you can create it.

I was speaking with a senior manager from a business I’m working with on leadership and culture change, and I asked her to describe the leadership she was getting from the Directors. Her thoughts were nuanced, balanced and insightful, “But,” she said, “all that aside, the way they looked after everyone through the pandemic, the way they took those decisions, they were amazing. For all their faults I would far, far rather work here with them, than anywhere else… no contest.”

All the engagement events in the world can’t buy you that level of connection, that sense of trust and loyalty.

If these businesses, these leaders, can do this almost by accident, anyone can. In fact, everyone can. Everyone in your organisation can build deep connections with colleagues and customers.

But it all starts with you. How can you start the ball rolling?