Organizations love to talk about building relationships with customers. The trouble is, most of the time it feels like they’re just paying lip service to the idea.
Was Wells Fargo “building relationships” when it opened all those unauthorized accounts? What about the car dealership that forces you to haggle over price to the point where you don’t even want a new car anymore? These are not the kinds of relationships I want to be a part of!
Building lasting business relationships isn’t rocket science. It’s really the same as building relationships in your personal life. Let’s take my marriage as an example. Lorraine and I have been happily married for 36 years, with three adult kids and a new grandchild. How do we make it work? Here are six principles that you can apply to your relationships with customers.
1. The Laws of Attraction
I met Lorraine when we were teenagers, and I liked the way she looked. For some reason, she felt the same way about me! This initial attraction meant we were interested in spending time getting to know each other better.
The customer relationship lesson: Organizations can’t build a relationship with customers if they don’t have any! Most do a great job of making themselves attractive with packaging, advertising and product placement. But we don’t form relationships with everyone or everything we’re attracted to. Organizations need to be sure to follow up on this initial attraction.
2. Compatibility and Values
Lorraine and I discovered we got on quite well with one another. Although we are very different in many ways, we also have many things in common. In particular, we have similar values.
The customer relationship lesson: People like to do business with companies that value the same things they do. That might be a simple, broad value like trustworthiness, or it might be a specific value that your company shares with its core customer base. Outdoor retailer REI, for example, closes its stores on Black Friday, urging its customers to go do something outside instead. The company loses sales on that day, but it communicates a shared set of values with its outdoorsy customer base.
Lorraine and I rarely argue. But when we do, we usually learn something. We find out where we disagree and what we are doing that is annoying to the other person. This helps us work through issues and do something about our behavior in the future.
The customer relationship lesson: Customer complaints are an opportunity to learn what your customers don’t like and develop a strategy to improve in the future. This helps build a relationship because customers feel you are listening to them and care about their issues.
I think compromise is the real key to a successful marriage. Lorraine and I learned a long time ago that neither of us can get our own way all the time. If either of us did, it would be extremely unfair to the other person! Because we love each other, we are happy to compromise and give and take’.
The customer relationship lesson: If you have rigid policies that you stick to all the time, your customers can feel angry and frustrated. One way to encourage compromise is to empower your employees to make exceptions to the rules when it makes sense. This gives customers the immediate satisfaction of feeling listened to, instead of the annoyance of escalating an issue up the chain of command and still getting no resolution.
5. A Deep Understanding
When I step in the door and say hello, I can immediately tell how Lorraine is feeling. I know whether she is happy, tired, frustrated, or just her normal wonderful self! This is because I understand her so well. Based on the emotions she is feeling, I adjust my communications with her – joking around if she seems happy, or letting her vent her frustrations if she seems annoyed. And she does the same with me.
The customer relationship lesson: Most organizations act like their customers are transactions to be processed, not people to relate to. But one of the core beliefs in our customer experience consultancy is that you must have a deep understanding of your customers. This is because customers make decisions based on irrational emotional andsubconscious factors. Our corporate trainings focus on the psychology of customer experience and the ways that organizations can design deliberate experiences based on the way customers feel.
Lorraine and I always tell each other the truth – even when we know the other person won’t be happy about it. The truth can be hard to hear sometimes, but because we are honest, Lorraine and I can trust each other 100 percent.
The customer relationship lesson: You have to be honest with your customers. Think about the recent Wells Fargo scandal. Wells Fargo deceived millions of customers, opening accounts without telling them. This destroyed trust. In personal relationships, trust is hard to rebuild once it has been damaged, and the same is true in business. Better to be honest from the start.
I’ve always thought that customer relationship building starts with simple common sense. I’d like to see more organizations use it.
What customer relationship lessons have you learned from your personal life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX