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Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which includes home-service companies including 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

Junk removal doesn't exactly hit you right in the "feels." It's an annoying thing people want to get over and done with – or they avoid it for years. The industry is notoriously fragmented, with subpar companies capitalizing on customers' need to get rid of stuff quick. In their haste to make a quick buck, they neglect a more important need: emotional connection.

As our former board member Simon Sinek says, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." He's right: People are more likely to choose a brand they connect with on a level that goes beyond the business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship. They want brands they spend their hard-earned money on to resonate on a personal level.

No one wants to feel like a means to an end. That's why customer-centric, people-focused businesses will always win.

Why customers make the emotional choice

The most successful brands have it figured out: An emotional connection has a bigger impact than customer satisfaction. Exceptional service can make up for a mediocre product, but the opposite is rarely true.

Let's take Starbucks, for example. No matter where you are or what you order, you always know what you'll get. The barista will always be friendly and smiling, and a triple no-whip mocha frap in Kuala Lumpur is the same as one in Seattle. It's amazing how, even in the most foreign of countries, a white cup and a green mermaid can give you the feeling of home. Starbucks' consistency is killer, and it has created a level of comfort and trust for customers.

The customer journey doesn't start and end with a transaction. There are many touchpoints along the way, from the first time a customer encounters your product through the purchase process to the follow-up. You want every one of these interactions to create a lasting, positive impression.

B2C isn't the same as it used to be. Now, it's H2H – human to human – and it's changing how people choose and interact with brands.

Want to make a sale? Stop trying to sell

Establishing an emotional connection with customers hinges on their experience with your company. People know when they're being sold to – and they don't like it. Your primary focus should be to build a relationship, not to make a sale. Yes, companies need to sell to make money, but a people-first approach will earn trust and build positive rapport with your customer. That's how you close the deal.

It's really about converting every customer from transactional to relational. Transactional customers have a one-and-done attitude towards your company; they'll use your product or service in a one-off situation and never come back. These are customers who don't have a personal connection with your brand, often due to a second-rate experience. But a relational customer will return because you gave them feel-good vibes and treated them like a person, not a customer.

It takes time to build a reputation for your brand but seconds to break it (looking at you, Uber). Like any other relationship, the brand-customer connection relies on trust and accountability. At WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, we promise to provide the quality you'd expect in a timeline that's unexpected. If we didn't follow through, we'd undercut our brand and our relationship with customers. If you ordered something on Amazon and it took a week to arrive, would you use the service again? Maybe, but I bet you'd be skeptical.

You don't need to promise the world, but you do need to live up to every promise you make. It makes a huge difference: Relational customers are twice as valuable as transactional ones.

Authenticity matters

Fostering relationships with customers is dependent on the people who represent your company. This means everyone from the front-line employees who interact with customers daily, to corporate staff toiling away behind the scenes. Every person in your organization plays a role in the customer experience, whether they're writing ad copy, building online booking software or knocking on a customer's door.

The ultimate goal for any company should be to inspire a team of brand advocates: people who embody what your business stands for and live it in everything they do (in their personal and professional lives). For example, our goal is to give customers a happy, easy, stress-free experience – so we hire happy, fun, approachable people who are inherently optimistic. This ensures the authenticity of our brand and our customers pick up on it. It's a simple concept that can have massive impact.

Getting people to connect with your brand on an emotional level is a challenge every company faces. But it doesn't have to be complicated. If we can do it with a junk removal company, anyone can.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

Karl Moore sits down with Michele Rigolizzo from the Harvard Business School

Special to Globe and Mail Update

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