Everyone promised they’re here for you. Now what?

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Remember those TV spots from years ago? I mean, five months ago? When every blue chip promised they were ’here for you’ in the earliest chaos of the pandemic?

’Now more than ever.’

They were definitelythere’ in one sense. With hopeful emails in your inbox. Notifications in your forgotten apps. Newsfeeds jammed with heartfelt clips. A symphony of hopeful background piano.

Their intention was positive. Though it didn’t take long for their ubiquity to become a rat race. Pan to a Teams chat grid of managers: “If we don’t put one out there, then how will we look against our competitors who did?”

Fair point. But by now, it’s safe to assume that many brands have relearned a simple truth: The same message, delivered again (and again and again), as though through some hackneyed empathy bot, has diminishing returns on authenticity. Let alone substance.

Let’s assume some actually delivered on their promises. Those who can afford big heartthrob TV spots tend to overlap the category of those with the biggest war chests.

Still, has my cable company’s chat bot, or my auto claims adjuster, actually provided a more empathetic offer, now that the world has been ravaged by a pandemic? Doing things better requires concerted focus, planning, and execution. In other words, the same resources that many have had to cut across the board.

We’ve had a lot of earnest conversations with our partners and prospects the past few months. Most have expressed needing to accomplish more with less. Like shoring up self-servicing on their online channels. There’s a heightened urgency this time around, because existing support channels are either so overwhelmed, or have been rendered obsolete.

All the conversations boil down to a question of where to focus efforts. And how to maintain a bearing when trying to deliver more value to customers. All while the outside world churns, P&Ls decline and funding dwindles.

Despite the chaos and challenges this year has brought, there is this forcing function of closer self-examination and ingenuity. It’s a point at which a thin brand promise of “being there for customers” quickly diminishes to something so table stakes — so plainly necessary — that the only real option is to focus real action and resources to actually deliver on it.

I got a newsletter the other day. Sometimes I actually read them. The lead piece in the “pandemic navigation” section focused on the need to digitize the value chain to realize a superior customer experience. Definitely. The whole piece was obviously true, but frustratingly abstracted from anything even close to practical or tactical.

So, where to start?

How about a dedication to real empathy? Not through the veneer of brand promise that pre-assumes a deep connection to — and understanding of — customers.

Here’s a direct and loaded question: how concerted and cohesive is your understanding of your customers?

I’m not talking about a ’Dan the DIYer’ or ’Mary the Marketing Exec’ persona slide. Think about your teams that interface with customers — be it face-to-face, or through aggregated data avatars. Are they researching and tracking how your customers’ needs have changed these past few months? How about sharing those findings across your teams for application?

Fortune 100s have entire teams and programs dedicated to customer insight development. Middle market heavyweights are not left out of the fun, though. In lieu of a dedicated function, a little structure goes a very long way to sourcing, analyzing, sharing, and applying real insights to inform better solutions.

You can put together a rock solid planning framework, then assess your service delivery or customer experience for gaps and breakpoints. But your assessment, and the solutions you come up with, need to be based on real customer data. It’s a wildly obvious but surprisingly underappreciated point. And it’s what unlocks the ability to deliver more value to your customers. It’s about explicitly understanding where they are and how you can make their lives or their jobs even a little easier. Then, it’s applying those insights to the experience you deliver.

Always. But especially when the world shifts dramatically and we are all struggling to be better with what we have.

Meet them where they are, and then you’ll actually be… there.

Cue the piano music.

Gordon Porter, associate director, strategy, Genuine (Jack Morton’s digital agency)

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