There’s a (possibly) apocryphal tale about the original advertising Mad Man, David Ogilvy, confronting a client who insisted that his customer was a moron. “Your customer is not a moron,” Ogilvy apparently replied. “She is your wife.” Or words to that effect.

Given that if Ogilvy spoke these words – he probably did so some 50 years ago – one would hope that the lesson would have been enshrined as holy writ by now. In fact, one could reasonably expect that with all of the technology available today to understand and act on customer behavior (think retargeting or algorithm-based recommendations), we would be living in a golden age of respect for the intelligence of the customer.

Sadly, this is not the case.

In fact, if anything, customers may be feeling less respected than ever before. There are two reasons for this:

  •  Customers’ expectations for personalized communication are higher, so when they aren’t met, the respect gap seems wider. Customers today just expect that companies are getting to know them as intimately as they are getting to know companies, and this magnifies the stakes.
  •  Companies sometimes let algorithms and data points replace common sense communication in interactions with customers. Data is fine for demonstrating trends and patterns, but not if they obscure a sense of the person behind the data.

When this happens, it’s a big missed opportunity to build a passionate, engaged customer base.

So what’s the fix? Well, there are handful of steps you can take with your messaging and your media that can help:

1.  Give them something to do other than click a button.

Have you ever watched a couple who have been together for a long time? They can have entire conversations with a mix of subtle gestures and half-spoken ideas. This is because each knows the other so well that they don’t need to say everything. To show your customers that you understand them really well, resist the urge to spell out everything for them. Leave a provocative conceptual gap that they can understand and fill. Impress them with the fact that you know them well enough to know what you can leave unsaid. Doing this not only acknowledges that you and your customer are aligned, it’s also a big sign that you respect their intelligence — respect that they will be more likely to return in the form of engagement.

2.Give them some room to breathe

Yes, I was searching leaf blowers on Amazon. That does not mean I want a steady diet of leaf blowers in my Facebook feed, in my inbox, on my favorite news sites, etc. I know, I know, data shows really high returns for this kind of immersive saturation. What the data does not show is how many people are left feeling suspicious, distrustful or worse, angry by it. Or what effect it has on brand measures such as preference or Net Promoter Score.

  • Make sure you know who you’re really talking to. Related to point two, I was also searching symptoms for a condition my elderly mother has. I think you can imagine what this behavior triggered.

3. Don’t make it all about the transaction

GASP! We all know someone who only reaches out when they need something from us. How does that person make us feel? Like we’re being used, right? Makes it kind of hard for us to want to engage with them when they have defined the relationship in terms of what they need. Instead, make sure you are engaging your customer even when you don’t want anything from them. They may still not engage in return but at least you won’t be that guy in their minds.

The fundamental lesson here, that was so brilliantly summed up by Ogilvy: your customer is a person first, and taking the time or making the effort to communicate with him or her as you would with any other person will pay dividends.

Enjoying what you are reading? Want to talk about how it applies to your business?