The Power of Portrait

In Brief

Customerville founder, Max Israel was vacationing in beautiful Venice, Italy with his wife and three children when he made a discovery that would completely change the way he thought about the customer experience industry.

Max and his family spent a few days making the typical stops, walking the tourist-filled streets, eating as much gelato as humanly possible, and taking a gondola tour of the canals that make Venice so famous. During this tour on the Canal Grande the Palazzo Grassi museum caught Max’s eye. The following day, Max wandered into the museum with his son and came across an Irving Penn photo exhibit that would change the direction of Customerville forever.

Irving Penn was a 20th Century fashion photographer also known for his portrait work with influential cultural subjects such as Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, and Igor Stravinsky.

Although Penn took photos of iconic and influential people throughout his career, the exhibit subjects that Max was enthralled by at the Palazzo Grassi couldn’t have been more different. This exhibit featured Penn’s “Small Trades” series and the subjects were in every sense of the word, “normal” people.

Penn positioned butchers, bakers, police officers and street vendors against grey backgrounds in their everyday work attire. No glitz, no glam; just everyday people seemingly plucked from their job site and dropped into Penn’s studio.

Max recalls being floored by how vividly their individuality just leapt from the photographs. By isolating these people, Penn humanized the workers and brought seemingly mundane professions to life.

"A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective." —Irving Penn

This experience sparked an idea that would change the way Max approached the feedback requests we have all become so accustomed to in our day-to-day lives. What if, instead of asking for feedback from behind an anonymous wall, we connected our employees with the customer and involved them in the survey? This is exactly what we’ve done.

Over the years, our industry has strayed farther and farther from the authentic essence of human interactions. Customers shouldn’t feel like faceless statistics in the company database. Nor should they feel like they are left to deal with scripted automatons.

Effective feedback approaches must focus on the core element of interactions that humans crave — the feeling that some authentic personality on the other end is listening to them.

By adding employee photos to surveys and humanizing the team members, we let customers know that they are, in fact, being listened to when they give feedback. Customers sense a real employee on the other end of the interaction, one who cares about what they have to say and plans on doing something about it. Before long, customers open up about their experiences, providing crucial information to those companies that take the time to get this interaction right.

Now, these can’t just be any photos. People crave that human connection and can to see right through half-hearted stock photography. Simple, straightforward photos of employees responsible for customer feedback within a company must be displayed. You can’t short-sheet this process.

Attaching an employee face to the feedback request provides a connection between the company and the customer, much like you would expect in a real-life conversation. In the same vein, it can be helpful to include a short conversational message from the employee, letting the customer know they will be personally responsible for any feedback given in this interaction. Customers respond to this, opening up and providing candid, quality feedback as if they were actually sitting across the table from an employee.

This interaction can’t stop here though; companies need to capitalize on this opportunity with action and close the loop. This is where the real magic happens.

Customers not only feel listened to, but see the results of their feedback, building trust and brand loyalty. The next time something goes wrong, they know they can reach out with a problem and confidently voice their concerns, believing that the company not only will listen, but will respond by doing everything possible to make things right.

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