Happy New Year! My first column of the New Year is online - Positive
interactions build vital relationships, trust with customers.
I have a Rule of Thumb, a guide for understanding relationships with people. I've concluded that people want two things. They want their experiences to be Personally Meaningful and Socially Fulfilling. Here's how I break this down.
Personally Meaningful is an affirmation of the values that a person finds important for their life. If you've read Jim Collins work (Built To Last and Good To Great) you'll understand what I mean by values. These are guiding principles that form the foundation of a person's life. Sounds deep doesn't it. Well, it is. And it cuts both ways.
If you lack any clear values, then you may lack focus. You may not really understand the impact that you are to have through your business. If business is simply an activity to make money, then your customers will know, and treat your business as a commodity. And commodities are bought and sold primarily based on price. If that is what you want, you'll spend most of your time finding new customers rather than building from a sustainable base of customers. Its cheaper to keep them, than to continually find new ones.
If your customers lack any clear values, then they will treat you as a commodity. You can only appeal to them based on price. And any repeat business is based on price, not the customer relationship.
So, if you want to create a sustainable customer base, then you have to address the issue of establishing some common ground of personal values that are meaningful to both you as a businessperson and to your customers.
Socially Fulfilling is different than Personally Meaningful, but builds upon it. Regardless of this over-played myth of the rugged individualist, most people aren't that individualistic. They are quite social, and enjoy their Personally Meaningful experiences in life to be social ones. Your customers who lack a clear set of values, who treat you as nothing more than a commodity, at the same time will party with their friends. They value the social aspects of life.
What this means is that we need to understand how the social dimension functions in the life of people, and then create customer experiences that support it. For example, in a social environment where peer pressure and consumerist values are high, then it is difficult to divide an individual off from their tight, closed social group. Part of their group identity is sharing the same brands.
Therefore, as a business person, you try to appeal to the whole group. Give them incentives to bring their friends. If you pay attention to cell phone pitches to young people, there is a clear recognition of the importance of the peer group. "Free calls to friends" is a recognition that some consumer choices are not individual ones, but by a social group. How can your business tap into the social peer pressure so that you get the whole group as a customer instead of just one.
What this leads to is the recognition that businesses want their customers to feel like they are part of a social group as their customers. This is fundamental to the customer evangelist idea. "Hey, bring your business here because these people are great."
Managing the social dimension of your customer relationships takes more effort than simply being good at the point-of-sale transaction. It requires some thought about the experience that you want people to have when they encounter your business.
Okay, so where do you begin if this is really an alien perspective for you.
Do two things.
1. Ask questions. Ask your customers about their experience. Talk with them. Find out what is important to them. And then respond to them with your own thoughts. Create a conversation with them that is ongoing. Make it personal. Remember their names. Treat them with respect.
2. Observe. Look at what happens in your interactions with other businesses. What are they doing that makes you feel more attached to them as a business? What don't you like. For example, I really like my bank, and am very unhappy with the cable company that provides my internet service. It isn't the quality of the product. It is the treatment of me as a person and a customer.
So the Rule of Thumb is create customer experiences that are Personally Meaningful and Socially Fulfilling. Use this guide to develop a better customer relations outcome for the coming year.
And have a splendid year with your customers.