How to Create a Human Connection in a Digital World

Posted by David Kindervater on Aug 22, 2019

There are approximately 269-billion emails sent and received every day around the world. Text messages account for another 23-billion messages. Meanwhile, we spend almost 145 minutes per day on social media networks. That's why smart marketers reach out to consumers where they're at: their mobile devices.

But according to New York Times best-selling author Daniel Schwabel ("Back to Human," "Promote Yourself," and "Me 2.0"), this technology has merely created the illusion of connection, while actually causing us to be more isolated. After all, we still crave an authentic human connection. It's just the way we're wired, and it remains important to create a memorable customer experience. You can have the technology, but you also need a human touch to truly fulfill your customer's needs.

Technology can't replace a caring employee who goes the extra mile to make a customer's experience more enjoyable. It can be a partner in the process, however.

Which brings us to the how. No matter what industry you're involved in, here are some of the ways your brand can create a human connection in a predominantly digital world.

Adopt a Humanity First Ethos

human connectionIt's easy to say, "Put people first." But exactly how do you do that? Is there a blueprint for how to permeate your entire organization with this mindset, resulting in an exceptional customer satisfaction ranking?

Kathleen Reidenbach is the Chief Commercial Officer at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. Her take is that "there’s never been a formula or rulebook to deliver heartfelt service," at least as far as Kimpton's concerned. So it boils down to simply treating people—like people. She said:

"We’re strong believers that even in an age of automation and technology, consumers are looking for those immersive and authentic experiences. Sometimes travel can be stressful, so we look for cues to help make our guests’ lives a little easier, and a lot more comfortable—something a computer can’t necessarily do."

Put People at the Forefront of Your Business Approach

Kimpton is well known for connecting their guests. They consider how their patrons want to feel, what would lift their spirits, and then they act in that moment—whether it's a restaurant/bar program or a nightly hosted social hour. 

In fact, what applies to their guests also works for their employees. Reidenbach, who will be speaking on this very subject ("Craving Human Connection in a Digital World") at INBOUND 2019, continued:

"Part of the experience of staying with us is interacting with the people who make up Kimpton: our employees. They bring their passions and interests to work. This creates a family that takes care of one another and our guests."

Kimpton has clearly created a human connection. The 65-property luxury chain has won the “Highest in Guest Satisfaction Among Upper Upscale Hotel Chains” by J.D. Power three times. But how is all this socializing received by Kimpton's guests? Is it a retention marketing success story?

"We hear plenty of guest feedback that they appreciate that we’re not running through a checklist at the front desk. The conversations unfold very naturally. Because of the connections we foster with our guests and the connections we encourage guests to create amongst themselves, Kimpton has an extremely loyal customer base. They know the type of service they'll receive no matter what property they're visiting."

The Stay Human Project: A Case Study

The Stay Human Project is a first-of-its-kind enterprise, a customer engagement strategy on an entirely new level for the hospitality industry. Kimpton took their belief that heartfelt human connections make people’s lives better and turned it into a social experiment.

The project began in Room 301 at the Kimpton Everly Hotel in Los Angeles. The room included a variety of in-room activities for guests, all designed to spark creativity and self-reflection and ultimately answer the question: "What makes us all uniquely human?" This exclusive activation offers guests the opportunity to share advice in a guestbook for the visitors who will stay after them. They can also take self-reflective polaroids, add an in-room community playlist, and much more, all with the purpose of creating deeper human experiences.

Kimpton found that people with drastic differences often had much more in common than you'd think. The similarities range from their greatest fears, to pivotal life experiences, to the innate desire for community and belonging.

Reidenbach explained:

"We’ve been truly moved by what we’ve seen so far. This room showcased how people are craving authentic connections and needing an invitation to pause and reflect in an often hectic digital world. The findings have been hilarious, deeply emotional, hopeful, and empowering. Above all else, though, they were incredibly honest and human."

Room 301 was so well received that 20 additional Kimpton hotels across the U.S. launched similar rooms inspired by the experiment. For example, in Washington, DC, there's a room dedicated to inspiring female empowerment. In Austin, TX, and Nashville, TN, there are songwriting rooms for apt artists. New York City offers a creative space to "leave your ink." 

Eat'n Park: Making a Human Connection

Eat'n Park is a restaurant franchise with over 60 locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Their motto is "The Place for Smiles." And that's exactly what their customers get. One young employee named Dylan in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania took it a step further with a genuine act of kindness for an elderly veteran guest. The deed turned into a social media post that went viral, creating a stream of positive PR for the eatery.

As the story goes, Dylan, who is quite tall, took a knee while writing down a meal order for the 91-year-old gentleman. This was because the man was hard of hearing and had forgotten to put in his hearing aids. He explained that he had lost much of his hearing during his time at war. After some conversation, he apologized for talking so much, but admitted he was alone and oftentimes didn't have anyone to talk to. Dylan smiled and said he enjoyed listening.

When Dylan delivered the order, the man asked him if he had a few moments to sit and talk while he ate. Guests described it as a touching sight—that a young employee would take the time to make a human connection with a guest who was obviously appreciative of a supportive ear.

The story wasn't documented or publicized by Eat'n Park, but rather someone sitting at a nearby table (another customer also picked up the man's guest check). It did prove that Eat'n Park doesn't just talk the talk, they take their motto seriously and train their employees to put their positive precept into action. How far the staff takes that message is up to each individual. But you can be sure people will think of this story when they visit (or even drive by) an Eat'n Park in the future.

Try Face-to-Face Interactions

Dylan's example isn't an everyday occurrence, but if you can have one quality exchange (face-to-face) with a customer, you'll build more trust with them than you would if you sent them an email marketing campaign that could go unnoticed. After all, only 20-40% of email messages are opened. If you can offer your customer a firm handshake, eye contact, and a friendly smile, you'll go a long way toward creating a human connection with them.

Naturally, this is not always possible in a digital world. So try giving them a call if you can't meet them in-person. This shows your customer that they matter enough for you to take the time to speak with them.

Include Technology in a Thoughtful Manner

human connectionFor the first time in history, the majority of our world is connected. There are more than four-billion people using the internet. As we look to the future, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to be the most impressive technological upgrade for businesses in the next five years. Customized marketing efforts, personalized recommendations, and enhanced website search methods are the future of customer engagement.

We can't ignore this technology. It has changed and will continue to change our modern living habits. As modern-day marketers, we need to move forward with it in a thoughtful manner.

In an article for the Huffington Post, contributor Danny Chan wrote:

"We’re so driven by data that we often overlook the human aspect of marketing and business. It’s crucial that we begin this process of delivering of real, human experiences on the web. Otherwise, we may not face a world in which machines replicate humanity, but where humanity replicates machines. Now that's a scary thought."

Online secondary social studies teacher Katie Devlin considers the computer both a gift and a curse. On one hand it enables interactive distance learning, yet it's difficult to maintain a human connection. She believes that establishing a connection with a student is the key to their success. So she applies three basic principles into her daily practice.

  1. Embrace your humanity. Devlin uses her webcam during live sessions so her students can see what she looks like. She also wants them to see her smile when they walk into the classroom.
  2. Establish a community. Devlin lets her students provide feedback on her lessons. This gives them a valued voice. In a sense, they can teach the teacher.
  3. Stay in touch. Devlin uses text messaging and email to contact her students. She takes the time to ask students about their lives as well as their lessons. This helps the human connection grow.

Handwritten Notes Create a Human Connection

In an age of digital marketing, a handwritten note is a welcome change. It stands out among all other forms of communication because it's more personal. A handwritten note creates a human connection in a world where technology oftentimes makes us feel disconnected. 

Are you sharing a special offer, announcing a new product or service, or simply thanking your customers for their support? Few communications are as engaging and powerful as the handwritten note. With Simply Written, handwritten correspondence is easier than ever before. Contact us to see how you can create customers for life.

Create handwritten letters without ever picking up a pen. See How.

Topics: Customer Loyalty, Customer Experience, customer retention, customer satisfaction