Defining Customer Relationships (and Why They Matter)
This article is the first in the "Happy to Help" Series, ongoing articles focused on elevating customer service experiences.
Customer Relationships trump everything. With twenty-five years of front-line, customer-facing background, and having served over one million customers, this is the most important thing I have learned;
Customer Relationships are Paramount.
Cultivating a lasting loyal business relationship with your customer pays off better than the best marketing, advertising, or promotion. It is an interesting dichotomy because the reason to operate a business is to make money. However, when money becomes the primary focus, the relationship suffers. Conversely, when the focus is on building the relationship, an increase in revenue becomes a direct byproduct. When a service provider’s intent changes to building relationships, they truly become “Happy to Help” any and every customer.
Good Family Relationships
My grandfather returned home to Wyoming after serving in the Navy during World War II. He homesteaded land and went into the work he had grown up with—farming. As a worker in an agricultural business, relationships were extremely important to him. As a farmer, he often spent time at the John Deere dealership. They not only knew him, but they knew his tractors. On one occasion, he sent my grandmother to pick up a replacement part. When the young man asked her which tractor it was for, she responded, “The green one.” Even though all John Deere tractors are green, they were still able to help replace the necessary part, as they knew which tractors my grandfather owned. The people at John Deere were not concerned about taking my grandmother’s money. They were successful because they maintained a personal customer relationship.
One of my first jobs in college was working in a video store. There were only ten or twelve employees who worked there, as we were a smaller location with a small community to serve. We all became very close and enjoyed working with each other. When the general manager of the store decided to pursue a career change that would allow him to work more daytime hours, it was an emotional affair. We had a small meeting and going away party. I remember him saying with tears in his eyes, “You guys are all like family to me. Really. I spend more time with you than I do my own family.” While he was speaking to us, his coworkers, I believe that some of those heartfelt relationships had also been built with our customers. It is for this reason I sometimes refer to customers as a customer family rather than a customer base, or a database of customers. Those terms are all about numbers; real customer service is about relationships.
At the time of this writing, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States. This brings mixed emotions for many. Thanksgiving is equated to time with family. Chances are that there are family members that you were excited to see, and there are others you would have been just fine to not see at all. Isn’t it funny how some of the people who drive us the craziest are family? Yet, the people we enjoy the most, have the strongest relationships with, and consider to be our closest confidants, we say are “like family.” I’ve been treated like family from service providers who genuinely cared about me and were concerned about my needs being met. I have been able to treat customers like family and build relationships with them. On one occasion, my team and I even held a surprise party for a customer, and everyone chipped in to buy him a birthday gift.
Real customer service, real experiences,
real marketing, real sales
is all about creating relationships.
According to sales expert, Jeffrey Gitomer, the number one reason people purchase is because they like their sales rep (or organization).
DTR – Defining the Relationship. Customer service is a term of familiarity, along with its younger brother (newer concept), customer experience. These terms are quite different, though many people use them interchangeably. They can best be designated with the following scenario:
While driving down the highway you see a billboard for a new restaurant. At work the next day a coworker tells you about how great the new restaurant is. You decide to try out the new restaurant and invite a friend or significant other to attend with you. A few days later you pick up your companion to go to the new restaurant.
As you arrive, you navigate your way through a crowded parking lot, but find a parking stall that you feel is a reasonable distance from the front door. The two of you walk toward the restaurant and comment on the large fountain in front of the restaurant. Once you enter, you observe that the entryway is covered with colorful flowers.
When you approach the front kiosk, you are greeted by a friendly hostess who promptly seats you.
After a few seconds, a server approaches and takes your order. He is nice, friendly, and well-groomed. He smiles, tells appropriate jokes, and is prompt with everything that you order.
After your meal, you walk back through the flower-covered entry, past the fountain, and back to your car in the parking lot. You comment with your companion about what an enjoyable experience you had.
A few weeks later, you decide to take the same companion back to the restaurant and have an equally enjoyable experience on your second visit.
You begin enjoying the restaurant so much that you begin calling them your “favorite” and recommending them to all your friends.
Customer service is the most granular portion of this scenario. It is specific to the instances that you interacted with or were served by another person. Specifically, it includes parts (3) and (4). It may be referred to as a customer service experience but does not include the elements of a full customer experience. The customer experience includes every part that pertains to a singular visit and is not limited to people. In this case the first experience includes what happened between points (2) and (5). Consider that components like the menu design, quality of food, and cleanliness of restrooms play into the quality of the experience, but are not specific elements of service. Point (6) would be a second and different experience but would include all the elements of the first experience. Customer relationships begin from the first contact with the organization, in this case point (1). The reason relationships with your customers are so important is because they continue through point (7) and beyond if that relationship is maintained.
Now that I have ranted about the importance of relationships, let us focus on customer service. While customer service is the most granular and a smaller portion of the overall experience, the value of this small portion outweighs the rest. No matter how beautiful the fountain or the flowers, no one will return to your business if your customer service sucks. On the other hand, many businesses do just fine without the bells and whistles (or flowers and fountains) because their customer service is fantastic.
Neither customer experiences nor customer relationships can exist without first delivering great customer service.
This series details lessons I’ve learned from delivering newspapers at age eleven, through twenty-five years of experience in restaurants (fast and casual), call centers, retail (including Black Friday), a number of hospitality and entertainment venues, corporate training, tech/SaaS, and up to facilitating more than one million customer service experiences. I hope you'll enjoy joining me on this journey.