How to build lasting business relationships


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I am amazed how organizations can be so clever and yet so dumb. Organizations constantly talk about the importance of having loyal customers but they rarely do anything about it. I am a great believer that business is not as complex as people make out. Take building long lasting relationships with Customers, every business wants to do this as they know Customer retention is the key to maximising profitability. So how do you do this? Just look at your own personal life and examine your own actions and you won’t go far wrong.

Let me give you an example of a personal relationship and how it applies to business.

I met my wife Lorraine when I was 17 and she was 16. We have been very happily married for 32 years and have three great kids, now adults. Now here’s the interesting thing…. don’t tell Lorraine, but the reality is that with the billions of women on this planet the chances of Lorraine being the ‘only’ person I could fall in love with are remote. So why did I fall in love with Lorraine and still remain loyal to her today and how do these principles apply to building strong business relationships with Customers?

1. It begins with an attraction!

Personal life

  • Without question, at the beginning, there is a physical attraction involved. I liked the look of Lorraine and for some obscure reason she liked the look of me. As we were both interested in each other we decided to invest time in exploring each other further.

Building Customers relationships

  • Organizations are quite good at this. They make their product or service. They package it and advertise it to make it look attractive. They put it in places where their customers will see it. They get Customers to explore their offer.

2. Are we compatible?

Personal life

  • Attraction will only get you so far. As Lorraine and I started to get to know each other we got on well. We felt relaxed in each other’s company. We discovered we are very different people in many ways but similar in many other ways. Most importantly we shared similar values.

Building Customer relationships

  • To build a relationship with a Customer you need to be open. If you think of the companies that people love, Apple, Zappos, Ritz Carlton, etc., it is because they share similar values with them. This doesn’t mean that they like everything they do. Apple can really annoy people and yet we buy their products in droves. There are also people that hate Apple which is fine; you won’t be attracted to everyone. There are, of course, those organizations like the banks who say they have values like you, such as trust and integrity, but are then ‘found out’ as having completely opposite values. This, as we have discovered in the past few years, causes Customers to leave and feel aggrieved.

3. What happens when you disagree?

Personal Life

  • Lorraine and I hardly ever argue. But when we do I see arguments as being constructive. They let you know where there are areas of conflict; you understand what you are doing that is annoying the other person and can then do something about it.

Building relationships with Customers

  • Sometimes you will annoy your Customers. These are called Customer complaints. You should treat them as gifts or free market research. They help you understand your Customers and if you are sensible you learn from them and change which will help build a stronger relationship.

4. Compromise

Personal Life

  • In my view if there is one word that sums up the secret of a successful marriage it is ‘compromise’. Both Lorraine and I know we won’t get our own way all the time. If one person compromises all the time, this will be eventually be seen as being unfair. So it’s about ‘give and take’. We compromise and we are happy to do so as we love each other.

Building relationships with Customers

  • The same applies to Customers. If you stick rigidly to your guns all the time people will not feel valued. It is making those exceptions that show that you value your customers. Netflix changed their service last year. Their customers hated it. They realised they got it wrong. They said so publicly and they changed back to what Customers wanted.

5. A deep understanding

Personal life

  • When I walk in the door and say hello, in a one word response I can tell what Lorraine is feeling. I can tell if she is happy, sad, tired or just normal. This is because I have a deep understanding of her. Based on how she is feeling I alter my approach. If she is sad I will find out why and be sysmpathic. If she is happy we will joke around together.

Building relationships with Customers

  • Most organizations treat their Customers as if they are transactions. They process them. We believe that you need to have a deep understanding of your customers. You need to do this by looking at them as people. It is essential that you consider their emotional experience and understand Experience psychology. We cover this in our CEM Certification live webinar training which I deliver. By understanding the Customer’s emotional experience you can design deliberate experiences based on how Customers feel. Our journey mapping process, Moment Mapping, builds an emotionally engaging experience.

6. Proactivity

Personal Life

  • Lorraine and I do things for each other as we know the other person will like it and here the important point is that we do these things but we don’t always tell the other person. In other words we don’t do it to gain something. We do it to enhance the other person’s life. These can be small things, maybe I won’t watch a film on a flight as I know Lorraine will enjoy it and we can see it together.

Building relationships with Customers

  • The same applies with Customers. You should do things for Customers just to make their experience with you better. You should consider what they need, before they know they need it and implement it. When they discover this is what you have done they will be impressed as it shows you that you value them and understand them enough to do this.

7. Communication

Personal life

  • I undertake a lot of key note speeches around the globe. No matter where I am we talk with each other every day, no matter what continent I am on.

Building relationships with Customers

  • Communication with Customers is vital. It is much better to over communicate than under communicate. For example, as everyone has a cell phone these days it is much better to phone in advance to let a client know your, or a delivery’s, expected time of arrival or that you are running late rather than leave them waiting around for you and potentially feeling frustrated.

8. Honesty

Personal Life

  • Lorraine and I are totally honest with each other. We tell each other the truth no matter what, even if we know the other person won’t like what we tell them. This may cause a short term disappointment but builds long term trust. I know I can trust 100% what Lorraine tells me.

Building relationships with Customers

  • The same applies with Customers. Honesty with Customers is paramount. Trust is at the core of every relationship.

9. A symbiotic relationship

Personal Life

  • Today, after 30 years of marriage we have reached the point where we are not two people, we are one. If Lorraine died tomorrow, I would not see the point of living. It would be too hard and like my Grandfather before me, I would die of a broken heart.

Building relationships with Customers

  • Ideally business gets to the point where they have this symbiotic relationship with Customers. They are so integrated with Customers they intimately know them and the relationship continues. However, I guess this is where this analogy breaks down – I wouldn’t suggest organizations go out of business because a customer leaves them! J

You can look into this as much as you like. I don’t see it as rocket science. I see it as common sense. But as Will Rodgers once said, ‘Common sense isn’t that common’!

What other attributes would you add to my list of what you do in your personal life when building relationships and how does this apply to business?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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