In this era of Instagrams, tweets, and linking in, an entire industry has evolved to help companies develop social media components to their communication strategies. It seems that all of the Social Media strategists, Communication Consultants, Web Developers, User Experience Designers, and User Interface specialists pour their talent and energies into one simple concept: The Personal Touch.
User interaction is based on the collective need for an individual experience. Those who know how to tap into the power of The Personal Touch are destined to be successful, regardless of their field of endeavor. As quiet as it’s kept, humans have an innate desire to connect with others. Social media presents a myriad of techniques to accomplish this connection, but the fundamental need is the same today as it was generations ago when messages were relayed via Pony Express.
Do you remember receiving mail as a child? I donated one dollar to charity and was astonished a couple of weeks later (yes, it was a couple of weeks in those days) to receive a piece of correspondence bearing my eight year old name. I was flattered, intrigued, and more importantly, responsive. In her book, The Personal Touch, public relations expert Terrie Williams describes the need for everyone to connect with their audience. Having worked as a publicist for many celebrities including Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson, Terrie asserts the need to provide the most positive memory we can with each person we encounter. The method of the encounter varies, but the need is the same. One of my favorite artists is an independent singer/songwriter named Chinua Hawk. Not only is he talented, but he relays the personal touch. After his performances, he is always willing to sign an autograph, take a picture, or speak with a fan. Many people enjoy NASCAR for similar reasons. When you are able to engage with someone you admire, such an exciting and meaningful personal encounter increases their merit and amplifies their value. They are no longer just someone on stage, in a boardroom, or on TV – they now become YOUR whatever-they-are…fitness guru, comedian, etc.
As consumers, we are highly responsive to organizations who deliver products based on extensive research and analysis of the user experience. Whatever our professional role, we have to carefully consider our customers – whether they are internal or external, children or adults – and design systems that maximize their experience. As our economy grows increasingly global, we must realize that we are involved in a worldwide competition to meet the needs of our users. The one who connects with the consumer will win. In fact, the organization who designs with the user in mind creates a win-win scenario for their customer AND their company.
Technology does not replace The Personal Touch – it is another means of achieving an individual, custom experience. All business is about managing relationships. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be understood. Everyone wants to be heard. Here are some things to consider in terms of infusing The Personal Touch throughout your relationships:
1. Parallel communication – as a courtesy, communicate with people in the same format that they originally contacted you. Unless specifically requested to do so, don’t respond to a call with an email or a call someone who stopped by your desk.
2. Identify additional commonalities – If you are geographically dispersed, try to have an informal means – team discussion page or instant messenger or skype to connect with people about other mutual interests such as corporate initiatives or charities. Such practices humanize you and lead to increased responsiveness because you become more than a name on an email line or a voice on a conference call. Last year, I was proud to support a colleague in a moustache-growing “Movember” event to raise awareness about men’s health issues.
3. Acknowledge others’ presence – In southern Africa, this philosophy is known as Ubuntu which means humanity to others. When you walk past someone, you don’t have to become best friends, but acknowledging the other person’s presence signals your self-confidence as well as your willingness to engage with the world around you. Years ago when Western countries began opening offices in southern Africa, Westerners would walk the halls and pass people without a nod or hello. This deeply offended the native citizens and set the stage for very poor initial labor relations. Once this principle was described and coworkers were acknowledged, everyone in these offices were more at ease.
4. LISTEN – From J.W. Marriott to winning coaches to Pulitzer Prize winners – many who are renowned in their field of endeavor attribute a lot of their success to the practice of effective listening. You cannot hear or consider the voice of the customer if you are talking over it. In personal and professional relationships, your willingness to be a sounding board for your coworker, your client, your spouse, or your child is the key to fostering an attitude of trust and confidence.
I’d be interested in your advice about the importance of the personal touch and how you employ these or other philosophies into your daily life.