Talking with a customer experience leader at a high-tech manufacturing firm the other day, we got to talking about how they often find it difficult to understand, classify and develop the different types of relationships that they have with their customers.
She told me that they have tried segmentation, demographics, psychographics, customer personas, amongst lots of other techniques. But they have found that in the midst of all of the technical jargon and techniques, they lose sight of the emotional part of the relationship.
I mused on the possibility that we could learn a lot more about our customer relationships if we reflect on, and compare them to, the different types of relationships that we have had over the course of our personal lives. Doing so, I said, could offer insights on how we can better understand the true nature of the relationships that we have with our customers.
So, what if we applied the typology of personal relationships to help us categorise our customer relationships? Would that help us better understand our customer relationships, where we stand with our customers and how we can develop the relationship?
How about a customer relationship typology that goes something like this:
- Dating – your customers are transient, they like variety and choice but they don’t want an exclusive relationship. An alternative explanation is that they know what they are looking for but they haven’t found the business or brand that they want to have an exclusive relationship with yet. They are shoppers and they may come back but don’t count on it. And, if they do, you may have to offer them great deals or discounts to keep them coming back.
- One-night stand – you’ve been able to deliver a one-off experience to your customer but they don’t want more. Their business could have been an impulse purchase or be driven by a specific need or context. These customers offer little prospect of repeat business.
- Boyfriend or girlfriend – your customers and you know each other, like each other and are getting to know each other better. You’re loyal to each other, you have an exclusive relationship, you both get benefits out it and are excited about getting to know each other better.
- Engaged – you’ve fallen in love with your customers and they’ve fallen in love with you. So much so that you are committed to each other and are planning on building a future together. You’re looking forward to signing contracts and embarking on a new partnership together.
- Married – you are now really connected. This would involve exclusive offers, membership packages, loyalty programmes, priority service, special surprises etc. etc.…the whole 9 yards. Contracts and vows are exchanged. In fact, the relationship may, in time, produce new ventures and investments etc, etc. However, don’t take the relationship for granted. Terminating or breaching terms of contracts can be messy.
- Partner – this is like being married but is slightly less formal and without any contracts. However, it doesn’t imply any less commitment, love or loyalty. But, also like marriage, the absence of contracts doesn’t necessarily mean that breaking up is any less messy.
Can you see your customers fitting into this typology? Would you add others?
However, in any relationship situation, whether personal or business, the most difficult part and the one that can often be fraught with problems is when we try to develop our relationship and take things to the “next level.”
For example, have you ever been in a relationship where you have asked, or have been asked, “So, what is this? What is happening here? What are we doing?”
This often happens when one of you tries to establish the rules and norms of your burgeoning, developing or changing relationship through a need for clarity, understanding and future planning.
In business, as in our personal lives, understanding and developing the true nature of our relationships with others requires honesty, communication, openness and commitment.
I wonder how many firms have done that sort of hard, emotional work when it comes to their customers. If they haven’t, might they think that they are “married” to their customer when, in fact, they’ve just had a one-night stand?
This post was originally published on my Forbes column here.