Don’t fake familiarity

Simon Waller: Dont fake familiarity

Last week in a coaching session with some of my digital champions, we were discussing how to automate customer satisfaction surveys. They had recently implemented an SMS-based survey system that had impressive response rates but poor quality (it turns out people are not inclined to write long detailed survey responses on tiny smartphone keyboards).

After much conversation about how we could potentially push people from the SMS system to a more comprehensive, web-based survey using their mobile number as a unique identifier that could later be cross-referenced against an internal database to match responses to individual client appointments, it was decided that we should just…call them. On the phone. And have a one-to-one conversation.

The savvy use of technology is not about automating anything, it’s about automating the right things…and meaningful relationships and human connection are the wrong things to automate. In fact, I’d go further and tell you that not only are they the wrong things to automate, they are impossible to automate.* It is the effort and time we put in that makes relationships meaningful and it’s the precious attention we give that makes us care.

* And I like to think I use words like ‘impossible’, ‘always’ and ‘absolutely’ quite sparingly

Which brings me to one of my pet hates. The use of the [first name] tag in emails.

In marketing, school people get taught that using a name provides connection through a sense of familiarity. But when you fake familiarity, what you’re actually displaying is insincerity.  And there are very few things that can undermine relationships more effectively than being insincere.

Weirdly, this feeling on insincerity is especially acute when the [first name] tag is used by people I know and like. For a brief moment, I think (or hope) I’m getting a personal message from them but it turns out I’m just a record in their CRM system or a card in their rolodex.

And so, even if the content is great (and often it is) I go from the excitement of connection to the realisation of, well, spam…and then a little part of me dies inside. So there’s a very real chance that when you fake familiarity, it’s the people who you have a genuine connection with that you disappoint the most.

So what’s the moral of this story? Be careful of what you automate and please don’t send me emails, LinkedIn invites or mail-merged letters starting with ‘Hi Simon…’ unless you really mean it.

Oh and check out this brilliantly funny blog by my good friend Tim Martin from November 20, 2015 called ‘The [insert first name] Edition‘.