Last week I was flying Southwest, and I’ll sheepishly admit I teared up a bit reading through the customer-submitted stories about employees who went out of their way to make their journeys just a little bit better. Maybe it had been a long day and I was tired, but it was something I was able to relate to on both a personal and professional level. Publishing these stories could feel self-congratulatory for some brands (especially to a travel-weary brand researcher) but it felt authentic for Southwest because I have experienced these small personal touches myself on past flights.
Southwest is, of course, a textbook, best-in-class example of customer service. But reading these stories made me think about a recurring theme I’ve been noticing across my work as a researcher: treat me like a human being. At times this can feel like an expected finding; who doesn’t want to be treated like a person? But this insight has proved to be nearly universal across categories, audiences, and geography, suggesting it’s a fundamental need every brand should address.
That being said, it can be a bit daunting to try to measure your customer experience against brands like Southwest. Re-introducing the human into customer experience can make us think high touch, custom, in-person, expensive. While taking a people-focused approach can feel like a big undertaking, it doesn’t have to be. Human touch doesn’t have to mean high-touch, big changes, or big investments. Small touchpoints can become opportunities to delight.
To look at the many different ways brands can humanize their experience in small ways, I asked my colleagues to share some of their favorite moments of delight:
“The head on our Dyson vacuum cleaner wasn’t working as well as it should, and I was thinking about what a pain it was going to be to get it working. Thankfully, we have a store nearby and I just dropped in. I explained it wasn’t working well, and without any questions, they just gave me a brand new one—piece of cake. On top of that, they had just come out with a new vacuum head, and I asked if it was worth it. They said it was amazing, and then just gave me one for free. I will always be a Dyson loyalist now.” –Gunnar Jacobs, Executive Director
“One of my favorite brand touches comes from Vital Farms, which sells cruelty-free, pasture-raised eggs. Every egg carton comes with a little branded booklet that features a ‘Bird of the Month’ profile, with a cute photo and name (‘Gorgeous Ginger’) of the month’s hen. Not only is this an adorable touchpoint, it also reinforces the brand, which is all about being close to the farming process and taking really good care of every chicken. It tells us that just like on a small family farm, they know every one of their ‘ladies’ by name! During an age where there is such a vast lack of transparency around how our food gets to our plate, this little book makes me feel more connected to the process in a way that’s important to me as a consumer.
I also think this example shows us that humanizing a brand doesn’t have to mean something directly ‘person’-focused. Instead, it’s about creating a small moment of connection that reinforces something important about your brand in an unexpected way!” –Sawyer Schweitzer, Senior Consultant, Verbal
“When you order from Driftaway Coffee, you get a card that comes with your beans. You get to learn a bit about the person and process behind the beans: Where they were grown, at what altitude and conditions, and the farmer and farm that produced them. And Driftaway takes it even further: You can go to their website and send feedback directly to the farmers, letting them know how great their coffee is. I think this is a really amazing, low-touch way to bring together producer and consumer.” –Mike Maio, Associate Director, Strategy
“Trader Joe’s is my daughter’s favorite store. Whenever we drive by it she exclaims, ‘Trader Joe’s!’ There’s a lot she loves about it: the juice samples, the white cheddar corn puffs, the stickers the cashiers give her. But the thing she loves most of all is getting a lollipop from the kid-sized treasure chest before we leave. A few months ago we were there and a staff member, upon seeing my daughter with that coveted lollipop in hand, said, “Oh, you must have found the bear.” Turns out, every day Trader Joe’s staff move a teddy bear around to a different location within the store—one day it will be above the cheese, another by the produce. Such a simple gesture turns the routine task of grocery shopping into a real-life treasure hunt. This practice has not only strengthened my affinity for the Trader Joe’s brand but instilled it in my daughter from the tender age of three.” –Erin Engstrom, Director of Content Strategy
“I first stumbled across Cotopaxi when a friend explained how the outdoor company used recycled materials and fair-wage workers to make their products. That alone was enough to sell me on a new backpack (well that, plus the fact that their gear is all pretty rad). Upon ordering, I found that Cotopaxi stays true to its mission of ‘doing good’ not only in its manufacturing process, but also in its customer experience. As soon as I placed my order, I received a Facebook message from the brand with my tracking number. Not only that, but when I opened the package, my new pack had come with a handwritten thank-you note from the Cotopaxi team. Through these simple touchpoints, Cotopaxi created one of the most rewarding customer experiences I’ve ever had.” –Rob Troller, Senior Analyst, Strategy
“All beauty junkies have heard: For black or deeper-skinned women, it can be impossible to find a shade of foundation that actually matches your skin tone. And even though this problem has persisted for decades, cosmetic brands still only ever seem to release a limited number of (mostly light) shades with a new foundation launch. Historically, a range of 10-15 shades has qualified brands as ‘diverse,’ which is obviously crazy when you think about the real diversity in skin tones across the world.
So when Rihanna’s makeup line Fenty Beauty launched last year, people FREAKED OUT over the fact that her foundation product included 40 shades, from almost-white, albinism-embraced to the deepest and darkest tones that many women can never seem to find. From a product innovation standpoint, Fenty Beauty scored big with consumers by listening to their needs, investing in a solution, and delivering in spades without the smoke and mirrors of big-beauty marketing.” –Meredith Hayford, Consultant, Strategy
“My boyfriend, Jeff, ordered speakers for a ski helmet and when we got them we found they weren’t what he had ordered and did not work with the helmet. Before leaving on our ski trip to the mountains, he called customer service to straighten out the order. The customer service representative listened fully to what the problem was, refunded Jeff all of his money, overnighted a new set of speakers to our accommodations in the mountains, and shared his cell phone number in case there was anything else we needed. It was a very positive recovery to what could have been a very poor experience. We now use Backcountry as our go-to for any kind of outdoor product needs.” –Allison Rothstein, Associate Manager, Client Experience
“When our second baby came early, we had to stay in the NICU at Sky Ridge for 11 days. During that stay, we utilized a room next door to the NICU called the Ronald McDonald Family Room. It was stocked with snacks and had a fridge full of drinks and popsicles. There were also a bunch of board games and kids’ books and toys and a playhouse. It was a really awesome resource for people that had family visiting or for people like us who already had a kid that needed to be entertained. It was staffed, and sometimes staff members would play board games with my son.” –Eric Lindgren, Senior Art Director
“You’re likely familiar with bland, generic hold music, either from waiting for a conference call or customer service representative. From an experience standpoint, hold music represents one of the biggest opportunities to inject some personality and emotion to help a brand stand out. With this insight, Uberconference, one of the many online meeting upstarts, allows its customers to upload custom music to their conference calls. To provide a source of inspiration for customers, Alex Cornell, one of Uberconference’s founders and a part-time musician, wrote and recorded a song called “I’m on Hold,” which plays as the default option for any Uberconference conference call. The catchy country-inspired song begins with a mellow acoustic guitar before the lyrics kick in. The story about being on hold and wondering about the other party is clever and witty and builds up to a crescendo the longer it goes on. First-time listeners are often left disappointed when the other party dials in, bringing an end to the song and signaling the return to real work. For the call organizer, the song buys a couple of minutes of goodwill when running late to a call. The song is so popular that it has over 47,000 listens on YouTube and is available on all music streaming services including Spotify. How much would the conference call giants pay for that type of exposure and engagement?” –Gabriel Cohen, Chief Marketing Officer