Creating a Relationship with Customers: A Long Term, Personal View

Creating a Relationship with CustomersThe further I get in my career, the more I think about the cliched advice “Don’t burn your bridges.” It’s amazed me how often I run into the same people in new contexts. A coworker at one job may be a client at another, or I might find myself at a networking event alongside a former collaborator. Bearing in mind that the people I work with today might also be the people I work with tomorrow has helped me think more mindfully about managing those relationships.

While I don’t generally agree that companies are people, one way in which they could benefit from acting like people is in treating their relationships as if they will endure rather than as one-off interactions. For large companies selling multiple products or services that are needed across the lifespan, gaining a lifelong customer is a worthy goal. For smaller companies whose wares might have more limited use, there is value in winning customer evangelists or people willing to try the next product based on their experience with the first. Two approaches to creating a lifelong relationship with customers are:

Consider customer service interactions from the customer point of view. This tactic recognizes that while service interactions are run-of-the-mill for companies, they punctuate the experience of customers. The cable company talks to thousands of customers each day, but the customer hopefully speaks with only one cable company. Those interactions then are opportunities to cement an ongoing relationship with customers. In Harvard Business Review, Rawson, Duncan, and Jones note:

A company that manages complete journeys would not only do its best with the individual transaction but also seek to understand the broader reasons for the call, address the root causes, and create feedback loops to continuously improve interactions upstream and downstream from the call.

Most companies care about providing good customer service, but this perspective takes it a step farther. Rather than just providing excellent service at one point in time, a company should be proactively building an enduring relationship that has continuity across multiple moments of excellent service.

Recognize moments of opportunity to connect with customers. David Edelman of McKinsey talks about “micro-moments,” points where customers have clear needs or behaviors that offer an opportunity for companies to proactively help. Providing service in a micro-moment reflects deep understanding of the customer, as well as a desire to offer value.  McKinsey offers the example of a hotel app that recognizes when a guest steps onto resort property and helps him check in using a fingerprint scan on his phone, rather than waiting in a lengthy line at the front desk.

What I love about this example is that it also shows what to the customer feels like personalization. The brand has recognized his need, recognized him, and offered a solution that relies on knowing his identity. This idea of making service personal connects the two strategies for building a brand relationship with consumers.

Taking these two pieces of advice together, the challenge becomes, how do we find opportunities to offer value to customers in a way that helps them build a relationship with our brand or company, rather than feeling like they’ve simply engaged in a transaction? How do we build, rather than burn, bridges between our products, our users, and ourselves?