Asking questions is the key to likeability, researchers find

Show interest in your customers to increase your likeability.

Obsessing over your likeability may have started in middle school, but it certainly didn’t end at graduation. Marketers strive to create that next viral video, and CEOs devote thousands of dollars to workshops to learn to boost their charisma. The thing is … we tend to overcomplicate likeability.

If there’s a silver bullet for getting someone to like you, it’s to show an interest in them. And, in marketing, it stands to reason that the more people like you, the more they’ll buy from you. All it takes is asking the right questions.

Science shows question-asking increases your likeability.

“People who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners,” according to an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers behind the findings identified this pattern consistently across three studies of live dyadic conversations.

Why? Brain scans have led researchers to discover that the pleasure center of the brain lights up when people talk about themselves. The intrinsic value of self-disclosure is so strong that test participants were even willing to forgo money for the opportunity to talk about themselves. This drive is likely so ingrained in our psychology because of humans’ extreme sociality. Our ancestors’ survival depended, in part, on their ability to build and maintain social bonds, fostered through familiarity, connection and trust.

As such, we’ve evolved to take advantage of and value opportunities to share our beliefs and knowledge about the world.

As psychology goes, so goes marketing.

Companies are continually charged with becoming more “customer-centric.” While the intention may be good, the endeavor is often bastardized, perverted into an exercise designed to increase sales and customer retention.

That’s why rhetorical and leading questions — “You want the best-tasting pizza in Chicago, don’t you?” — only annoy people. You’re making everything about you.

Yes, business is business; there are bills (not to mention salaries) to be paid. Still, let’s not forget the roots of commerce: one-to-one, face-to-face transactions. For businesses to fail at the art of conversation and connection spells doom for their bottom line.

It’s up to marketers, then, to humanize their brands and connect with customers and prospects alike sincerely. Fortunately, the same tenets of interpersonal communication apply to customer engagement.

Show interest in your customers to increase your likeability.

Like in the studies described above, marketers can ingratiate themselves by expressing interest in their customers’ experiences. Begin refining your marketing strategy by incorporating the tactics below:

  1. Ask questions. Because people enjoy talking about themselves, ask open-ended questions to spark conversation. The more you know about them, the more they’ll feel connected to you and the better you can serve them. If you’re just starting out, incentivize participation by integrating questions into a contest format.
  2. Retweet and share. Once you’ve got people talking, use whatever digital clout you have to share their stories. Promoting user-generated content, or UGC, gives customers a feel-good boost of positive attention and encourages others to share with you as well.
  3. Encourage comments. The best companies create with their customers — not just for them. Partnering with them to solve a problem or weaving in their feedback as you optimize your product or service will show customers that you truly see them as contributors to your success.
  4. Respond to posts. Think about it: You feel most comfortable sharing with someone if that person makes eye contact, emotes appropriately and makes you feel like you’re receiving their undivided attention. The same applies online. There’s no use in encouraging comments if you don’t answer them. In fact, it’ll incense customers to see you fill their feeds with sales messaging while their tweets or Facebook messages sit around collecting dust. Make it a priority to respond to reviews and posts quickly, even if it means delegating the responsibility to an employee or agency.

You must invest in the end-to-end experience.

Having a phenomenal digital strategy won’t get you very far if the rapport drops off at your front door. Your offerings, customer service and purchase experience must reflect that same dedication to your customers. With social media so accessible and integrated into daily life, a discrepancy between your digital identity and how your treat customers in-person will be obvious, exposing you as a phony.

So, the only true way to become likeable is to care genuinely. It may take overhauling your website for a better user experience design, revamping your return policy or even retraining or replacing multiple members of your team. It goes way beyond just what you tweet to your followers, requiring creative thinking in every aspect of your business.

How do you make your customers feel connected and valued?

If customer engagement is one of your priorities (as it should be), we want to hear from you. Tell us in the comments how you’ve championed engagement across your business. Have you struggled to implement any of the initiatives in this post? Give us a shout, and we’ll help you troubleshoot.

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