Episode 153 : Building A Strong Human-Centered Emotional Connection with Employees and Customers

Ethan Beute is the Chief Evangelist at BombBomb and he is a co-author of Rehumanize Your Businessand of Human-Centered Communication, his newest book. He is also the host of The Customer Experience Podcast. Ethan Beute has spent the past decade helping business professionals be more personal and human through simple video messages.


  • Could you share with our listeners, those who have not tapped into your awesomeness as yet, a little bit about your journey, how it is that you got to where you are today?
  • Could you share with us maybe, I would say the main pillars that that book is built on? Who is the book for? What is the book about? And how can it really help you to up your customer service game?
  • What does a company need to be to be customer obsessed and cult followed that people want to follow that brand? How can you really get your customers to want to be intrinsically loyal to you?
  • Are there maybe two or three indicators as a representative or a manager or an employee in an organization that will kind of guide you to know that you’re truly connecting with someone?
  • Could you share with me why video is so impactful? How does it work? And what kinds of messages can you give with a video? Is it only for tutorial based kinds of conversations? Or can it just be simple responses and messages instead of actually written communication?
  • Can you share with us what’s the one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without and your business?
  • Could you also share with us maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you? It could be a book that you read a very long time ago, or even one that you’ve read recently that has left somewhat of a memory or good memory or an impact on you?
  • Could you share with us what’s one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about? Either something you’re working on to develop yourself or your people?
  • Where can listeners find you online?
  • Do you have a quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenge, you will tend to revert to this quote; it kind of helps to get you back on track or keep you refocused.


Ethan’s Journey

Ethan shared that he built a career in local television, so he ran local marketing teams inside local TV stations like your local ABC, or NBC or Fox station, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in Chicago, and out here where he is now in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And he was kind of bored of the work; he had been doing it for some time. And so, he started doing project work with a variety of different people that he knew, including the two co-founders of BombBomb and he just really liked what they were up to, he thought it was interesting. And so, he joined them as the first and only marketer over a decade ago as you were kind enough to mention in the introduction.

And in that time, just the growth in team size, customer base, revenue, it’s been this dramatic journey of transformation and that’s been happening at the same time that he’s been really in a front row seat of this movement to replace some of what is typically faceless typed out text, think about emails, social messages, text messages, Slack messages, all this faceless typed out texts that we rely on every day, replacing some of that with simple personal video messages.

And so, he’s done a lot of learning, teaching practicing, he’s sent more than 12,500 videos himself now, as you already mentioned. He’s written a couple of books on the topic. And it’s just been a joy because as it says in the title of the first book Rehumanize Your Business, this really is about restoring some of the missing human elements that have been so useful to all of us for so long, that have gone missing as we’ve increasingly gotten digital and virtual.

Ethan’s Book Human-Centered Communication – What the Book is About – The Main Pillars the Book is Built on and How it Can Help Up Your Customer Service Game

Me: So, your most recent book, Human-Centered Communication, that was released in September, right?

Ethan shared that in October, they were definitely telling people about it a lot in September, and it started shipping in in early October.

Me: So, could you share with us maybe, I would say the main pillars that that book is built on? Like, who is the book for? What is the book about? And how can it really help you to UP your customer service game?

Ethan shared that if you rely on connecting and communicating in digital, virtual and online spaces, then this book is for you.

He knows that’s really, really broad. But really, it is loaded with philosophy, and then more practically strategy and then more practically tactics to help anyone connect and communicate more effectively in the face of ever increasing digital noise and pollution.

So, we all know that these spaces that we operate in are noisy. Inboxes are overloaded, message boxes are overloaded, and we’re getting spam texts and spam calls now bleeding into pollution.

It’s difficult to know who and what to trust, we feel some sense of overwhelm, just keeping up with all the notifications, but he’s in like five Slack channels and they always seem to be loaded with more new messages than he can possibly keep up with.

And so, this is obviously unsustainable for individuals and for organizations. And so, Steve, who is his long time friend and team member, their Chief Marketing Officer at BombBomb, his co author on Rehumanize Your Business, wanted to take this on directly.

Obviously video does play a role in it, we can get into the nuance there. It specifically helps fill in the void of the visual and emotional impoverishment of so much of our digital communication in addition to the layers that it adds in terms of communicating your identity and verifying it because it’s you on the screen, there’s no one that can fake being you, at least at this point.

And so, they roped in 11 of their expert friends, they have a number of sales and marketing leaders, they have a marketing futurist from Salesforce, they have an emotional intelligence expert with seven US patents in the analysis of facial coding data, they have just a number of different people that they brought into this conversation, to figure out how to make sure that the way they’re reaching out and engaging people puts those people’s needs and interests first in order to generate better results for everybody.

And so, that’s what they’re doing. They’re blending human centered design with their daily digital communication, it does rely on Steve’s and his (Ethan) expertise and experience, but they also involve many other people in the process. And the feedback so far has been very, very positive.

How Can a Company Be Customer Obsessed and Get Customers to Want to be Intrinsically Loyal

Me: Very nice. So, one of the terms that you use in your book, customer obsessed and cult followed. Apple came in at 7.8, the most human brands across all industries. And then you had USAA a nearly 100 year old financial services organization with a score of 9.4.

What does a company need to be to be customer obsessed and cult followed that people want to follow that brand?

And then I’d like you to also talk a little bit about loyalty. Because I know a lot of companies have loyalty programs, but to me, they’re more like, I don’t know, I just don’t see them as true loyalty programs, because what they’re doing isn’t necessarily making me want to be loyal to them.

So how can you really get your customers to want to be intrinsically loyal to you?

Ethan shared that these are great questions. And the answers to both are remarkably similar. So, he’ll put them together.

For folks who are listening, what Yanique is referring to is a study that he and Steve leaned on; he thinks it was in chapter two of this book. But it’s the Lippincott Human Era Index or something like that.

And it was a survey of hundreds of company leaders and 1000s, if not 10s of 1000s of consumers. And they were trying to identify the most human brand and he doesn’t remember off the top of his head and he doesn’t have the book. But they asked three particular questions. But really, he can answer both questions without listing those, is a really interesting study.

If you just search Lippincott Human Era Index or something, you’ll find it, it’s not hidden behind a gate, you don’t need to type in an email address or anything to get it, it’s a really interesting study.

 It really comes down to how we make people feel.

And he’s going to go to Shep Hyken, who they featured in chapter 11 of Human Centered Communication, he’s a customer service and customer experience expert. And one of the things he’s been talking about lately is the difference between repeat business and loyal business. And the primary difference is the emotional connection that we feel.

Now, the emotional connection, one of the reasons that he thinks USAA that 100+ year old financial services business beat out companies like Apple or Southwest Airlines, or some of these brands that people really, really like, and respect and feel connected to, and would rank as human is that they, this is an interesting one, this isn’t the only way to do it, but they answer their phone. He’s actually a USAA customer, their hours are pretty broad, so if he wants to call them at 6:00 am in the morning while he’s drinking coffee before he gets into the work of the day, or if he wants to call them in the evening or any point during the day, you can actually talk to somebody and they’ll answer your questions and they won’t rush you off the phone and they’re just very available and approachable online and on the phone etc.

They also have an interesting thing where the only way in to being a USAA customer and he say he’s getting a little bit too specific about their branding and positioning. But it’s for US military and their families. Now, his father was in the Air Force, he (Ethan) has no military experience himself but because he is his direct descendant, he’s able to be a USAA customer. But they have this other layer of in and out and it doesn’t have to be as clearly defined as being a military member for example, or a formal member of a group but the more you can create this kind of in group, out group scenario, the more people who are in feel like they’re a part of something, the more you treat them as individual human beings as opposed to sources of revenue, the more you treat them as human beings rather than as numbers, customer numbers, account numbers, the less you make them restate themselves over and over again. The less you make them verify their identity over and over again, because they’ve already done at once.

There are a lot of things you can do to make people feel valued and appreciated, like you respect their time and attention and like you see them as a partner in success, whose questions you want to answer and problems you want to remove and opportunities you want to help them capitalize on.

It really comes down to how we make people feel, how we make people feel about themselves, how we make people feel about us, and our sales reps, or our service reps, or the other humans, they come into contact with, the way they feel about their problem or opportunity, the way they feel about our product or our service, the more we can keep in mind as we’re making decisions as we’re designing systems and processes. As we’re designing messages and digital experiences, now he’s getting into kind of the what they take account in Human-Centered Communication, the more we can keep people’s needs and wants and the way that we make them feel, the emotional resonance that they leave each of these individual experiences with, the better off we’re going to be.

Indications in an Organization that Will Guide You to Know that You’re Truly Connecting with Someone

Me: Brilliant. So, that definitely answered both of my questions. And I’m so glad that you’ve been touching so much on emotional connection, and authenticity and just being really connected with another human being.

Are there maybe two or three indicators as a representative or a manager or an employee in an organization that will kind of guide you to know that you’re truly connecting with someone?

Because I imagine connection looks different depending on each individual, it’s not the same; you wouldn’t connect with each person the same way. But is there maybe some guiding principles or triggers that you could use possibly as indicators to know that you’re on the right track to connecting with this individual?

Ethan shared that a number of different people will do it in different ways. Some people do it through survey mechanisms and other feedback, NPS and going beyond just the number but getting to kind of the scores and the sentiment.

Some people use retention or expansion, or other financial measures to suggest loyalty. There’s no foolproof answer to this, he wished he had something better and more concrete for you. But he will give you some concrete steps that he knows some people he really likes and respect are taking which big idea here, it is difficult to create customer loyalty. He will add it is difficult to create a remarkable customer experience without creating a remarkable employee experience and without employee engagement and employee loyalty.

So, something that he’s heard from a number of people is that they do some form of course, (a) being very thoughtful about what it’s like to be on the team. What does it feel like to be a team member here? Do I feel valued? Do I feel appreciated? Do I feel like I’m making a contribution, not just to the world at large, but am I making a contribution day to day, week to week to the improvement of the business and to the improvement of customers lives.

And so, something that he’s heard really good, thoughtful, engaged managers and leaders doing is that as part of their meetings, let’s just assume you have like a daily or a weekly stand up, or some kind of a team meeting.

They’ll come up with different questions but they’re all kind of around the idea of tell me a story that happened this week where you’re able to solve a customer’s problem or answer a customer’s question. Or maybe where you broke the standard rules of the playbook, where you went a little bit out of your way, or where you got an amazing piece of feedback. And you know what you’re looking for there isn’t those amazing over the top surprise and delight stories. What you’re trying to do is just create this culture where there’s an ongoing internal conversation about putting other people’s needs first, sometimes people are asking needs about helping out your fellow team members as well going out of your way to save someone time or to pick up where they left off or maybe a team member had a personal challenge or a personal crisis during the week and you filled in for them or covered for them or that kind of thing.

The more we can keep this top of mind by asking people to share stories, either in a one on one or a group setting, the more we’re establishing that other people matter. And that the feedback people provides us matters, the way that we make other people feel matters. And so, it’s a very simple practical thing to do.

And he thinks for maybe a hard driving, hardcore manager, it might feel like a waste of time, but he promise you, you will have a much more engaged team, one month, one quarter, one year into a habit that looks something like that.

Me: So, we really need to ensure that we are truly having those kinds of conversations that we can connect to people. And I love the fact that you mentioned that it’s all about having a remarkable internal employee experience, because everything starts from within.

Why is Video so Impactful and What Kinds of Messages Can You Give With a Video?

Me: Video is something that is mentioned predominantly, of course, because BombBomb is all about video messaging. But let’s say our listeners that have tapped into this episode didn’t hear your previous episode with us last year and they’re not too familiar with video messaging and how it really works.

I can attest, give a testimonial in this interview and say, each time that I interact with Ethan and I send him an email, he responds with a video message, and it blows me away every single time.

So Ethan, could you share with me why video is so impactful? How does it work? And what kinds of messages can you give with a video? Is it only for tutorial based kinds of conversations? Or can it just be simple responses and messages instead of actually written communication?

Ethan shared that this is a really good question. It’s a big one, too. So he’ll take it on. He’ll start easy and try not to go too deep, and then let you redirect me as you would like. But in general, anyone listening can imagine how many times they receive or send a typed out message during the day. Usually, it’s in the dozens or so. And so much of what we’re trying to do, some of these are important and valuable messages and yet, we’re restricting ourselves because it’s just become normal to a form of communication that isn’t ideal for many of those messages. And he’s talking again about faceless typed out text, the same black text on the same white screen that doesn’t differentiate you, doesn’t build trust and rapport and doesn’t communicate nearly as well as when you simply look someone in the eye and talk to her or him.

And so, this video messaging movement is just looking for opportunities to record a simple video, it might be 27 seconds, it might be two and a half minutes, and sending it to one person or more people in order to do one of three things in particular.

One, establish or re- establish personal connection. So him and Yanique have never met in person, he hopes to one day. But in the meantime, you can feel a little bit like you know him, because he’s sending a full version of himself, the next best thing to being there in person. Because they don’t communicate all the time, they’ve been privileged to communicate back and forth quite a bit over the past year or two. But it’s not like they talk every day.

And so, it’s been a while since you heard from me or since I’ve heard from you. So he’s going to initially establish and then now it’s re-establishing some degree of psychological and emotional nearness, you feel a little bit connected to him. And this they can do this with their team members. So many people are working remotely; they can do this with their prospects and their customers. They can do it with their partners, their vendors, their suppliers, integration partners, all kinds of different people in their business ecosystem can feel like they know them before they meet them, or be reminded of what it’s like to be with them. There’s just a simple joy and benefit in that. So, number one is personal connection.

Number two is managing our emotion or our tone. There are so many things we try to do and typed out texts that are just really, really hard to do. Because text doesn’t capture the richness of human communication, it doesn’t connect; it doesn’t capture subtlety or nuance. It doesn’t capture excitement, or sincerity or gratitude, or concern or appreciation; all this kind of soft, wonderful human stuff, if we need to provide corrective feedback to a team member and we don’t want to wait until the next one on one because that’s scheduled four days from now, we need to provide that corrective feedback sooner than later.

So much better to do that when you can communicate it in a way that your intent and your sincerity and your interest cannot be confused. If you type out a message and send it to someone, it’s up to them to determine, do you really mean it in a positive constructive way? Or does it come across passive aggressive, it doesn’t really matter, you can try to control it the way that you write it, but it’s really up to the other person to make the decision. When you send a video, there’s no mistaking it. This is how humans have been communicating for millennia. We express emotions through our faces, and we read emotions from other people’s faces. As a parent, or as a leader, or manager, you’ve probably had some version of this conversation with your child or with your direct report. No, it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. And so, we all know that the way we say something matter. So, number two is emotion or tone.

And number three is detail or complexity, there are a number of things that we try to explain whether we’re answering someone’s question, whether we’re just adding an attachment to the email, and pointing someone to page 12 to look for something in particular, we can break down detail or complexity, we can explain things in laypersons terms, we can show and tell with a screen reporting, we can walk with a screen recording where we can put ourselves in a little box or a circle and put a document or a report or a contract or a proposal on the screen, and walk and talk someone through it. And so, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in marketing, whether you’re in customer service, whether you’re in account management, whether you’re in leadership or management, no matter your role, or function, there are opportunities throughout your day, and throughout your week to do these things. You can still enjoy the benefit of the asynchronicity of digital communication. 

He clears his inbox when it’s convenient for him and some people are getting his message and engaging and responding immediately, some people are doing it an hour later or a day later, sometimes even a week later, whenever it’s convenient for them. There are a number of benefits to all of this digital communication, but we need to look for the spots to restore the real human to human elements and the human to human qualities that make the communication, this is the key, more effective. This isn’t about video for video sake; this is about using video because it’s better at certain jobs, in terms of helping other people out, making ourselves clear, etc.

Me: Amazing. Love those three points that you brought across why video is so important and we will definitely have them highlighted and singled out in the show notes of this episode so our listeners can really gather and gain and feel the impact of what video messaging can really do for your business.

Ethan shared that simple, casual, conversational, this is just you and your webcam just like if you’re getting on a Zoom call or a Skype call or a Microsoft Teams call or a Google Meet call, this isn’t fancy, this isn’t scripted, this isn’t edited.

This is just you talking to other people or kind of showing and telling what’s on your screen, this is very approachable. You can do it in email, you can do it in LinkedIn messages, you can do it in Slack messages, you can do it in all kinds of different places. He just want to walk it down so that anyone that isn’t familiar doesn’t think, “Oh, I need fancy equipment, I need to edit video, this is going to be really slow and cumbersome.” This is just quick, easy, lightweight video communication for the benefits we already described.

App, Website or Tool that Ethan Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

When asked about an online resource that he cannot live without in his business, Ethan shared there are a number of things that come to mind. Some of the easy ones that are kind of like layups, obviously email, he knows that’s really old fashioned and it’s silly to say, but there’s just so many benefits to it and I find it so manageable. At some level, he uses it as a to do list at some level. He uses his phone as the screening tool, so he can swipe and delete the emails that aren’t so important or that are there quick to deal with. And so, when he gets to his laptop, he only has the good ones. So that’s kind of an old fashioned one.

LinkedIn is obviously super useful for meeting people and exploring ideas and even exploring your own ideas and creating conversations around them. In terms of a hot app or a hot tool, he’s not really a tech gadget app person so he’s not really looking to stay on the edge there. He keeps it pretty simple and whatever his team is using, he’ll wind up using. One of the tools they’re using more and more is Miro. It’s kind of a visual collaboration tool, think of it like a Google Doc or a Google Sheet but with a lot more different, unique, collaborative functionality. And again, it’s a bit more visual, so that’s one he’ll offer.

Books that Have Had the Biggest Impact on Ethan

When asked about books that have had an impact, Ethan shared he reads a lot; he’ll go with an old one and a new one. He doesn’t remember what he mentioned the last time Yanique asked him this. So hopefully, the old one is not a repeat, but a book that he just absolutely loves; he found it in a used bookstore in the mid 1990s.

It was printed in 1973 and it literally fell apart in his hands finally. As he was doing the research for Human-Centered Communication, and this book is called Small Is Beautiful and the subtitle is Economics as if People Mattered. So, it’s a human centered approach to economics in the financial system at large. It’s actually a collection of essays by a gentleman named E.F Schumacher, Ernest Schumacher.

And he was writing in this era where people were really trying to figure out how do we evolve out of this industrial mindset of mass markets, mass production, and anonymity, inter changeability, standardization, a lot of dehumanizing work for the people executing it. And so, he found that really inspiring and informative. Again, he’s read it several times. But he reread it as he was doing the research for Human Centered Communication. So, that’s an older one.

And then a much newer one is called Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data by Rishad Tobaccowala. And he gets into the same divide and he speaks to a really current tension that we would all recognize is what is the proper place of people? And what is the proper place of machines? How are we to work together?

It has echoes back into this kind of industrial revolution, industrial mindset that was dehumanizing. And of course, now, it’s manifest again between robotics from a physical standpoint, automation and AI from a thought in an analytics standpoint. Just wrestling with what makes humans uniquely powerful, what brings humans to life? What do people find engaging both on the employee and on the customer side. And so, the more recent one is called Restoring the Soul of Business by Rishad Tobaccowala. And love that book, too.

What Ethan is Really Excited About Now!

Ethan shared that they’re doing kind of a hard reset on a lot of their training. And so, right now he’s in this mental state where he’s taking this broad sweep of all the things that he’s learned and taught over the past decade at BombBomb. And it’s a lot obviously, and it includes two and a half books. There’s a half book in between these two, that turned out to lay out in about 128 pages and just updating it, making it more contemporary because this opportunity is for everybody as he already mentioned.

It’s easier to do than most people think there, are 10s of 1000s, if not a couple 100,000 pioneers actively engaged in this and it brings him to life every day to know that he can help more people (a) Understand the opportunity. And then (b) Start going down this road where they actually try it, “Am I doing it right?” People don’t seem to be responding or people are responding incredibly well and just getting people on the right track and moving them forward.

And so, he’s just kind of in this reflective review state in order to update and recreate, along with some team members, it’s exciting and encouraging. And if anyone ever has any questions about any of this, he’d love to hear from them directly.

Where Can We Find Ethan Online

LinkedIn – Ethan Beute

Instagram – @ethanbeute

Twitter – @ethanbeute

Instagram – @bombbomb

Twitter – @BombBomb

Website – https://bombbomb.com/book/

Podcast – The Customer Experience Podcast

Email – ethan@bombbomb.com

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Ethan Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Ethan shared he doesn’t have any, he probably shared a philosophy that they developed internally at BombBomb which is, “Be of value and abundance will follow.” This idea that the more we lead in a spirit of service and support and help, the rewards come subsequently.

Another one he’ll add, this is just a mantra sometime. He runs, walks and hikes a lot and often times he’ll listen to music or listen to a podcast but he will also take the airbuds out for extensive periods of time just to be with his own thoughts.

And sometimes he’ll just cycle on a mantra which is, “Being kind to myself and being kind to other people.”

He knows it seems simple, but it’s so easy to get caught up in what other people need, what other people want, the pressures you’re putting on yourself, different things that are on your calendar and your schedule. And things can feel busy and overwhelming and if we stop and think about why we’re really here, it is to be in a relationship with other people and he thinks leading with kindness is not a soft thing to do, it’s actually a very challenging thing to do and it is foundational to all good things.

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