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Innovation: Customer Relationships ARE Conversations

In the past couple of days, Steve Yastrow has been collecting definitions about “what is a customer relationships?” at Tom Peters’ blog. The working definition they’ve come up with is:

In the past couple of days, Steve Yastrow has been collecting definitions about “what is a customer relationships?” at Tom Peters’ blog. The working definition they’ve come up with is:

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A relationship is an ongoing conversation with a customer, in which the customer never thinks of you without thinking of the two of you.

Customer relationships are conversation only and if there is an unwavering commitment on the part of the company to make it so. Let’s not forget that in exchange for providing a product or service, the company gets compensation.

True, if the organization is market-driven and knows what products and services customers want and need, there will be a profit and a value that it will put back into the marketplace in the form of higher stock valuations in the case of a public company and more jobs and benefits for the local economy in the case of a private company. Both things that end up putting value back into circulation for this wonderful mechanism we call economy.

In this sense, there is a relationship — direct and indirect — between value and service, which in this column we call conversation. Markets are always self-corrective so if the relationship is not proportional, the company will get into trouble at some point — its stock will go down as a result of decreased sales or the private equity partners will not be able to realize their projected sales target.

Does it matter to this cycle what the definition is? Not one bit. Does it matter to customers? Probably not, either. As a customer, all I want to know is that someone will take care of me and they will do it efficiently if not happily.

So far, the best reasoning I read about the whole discussion comes from Paul H in the UK:

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A customer relationship should be what the customer wants it to be. We want that to be a human relationship.

However – One of the challenges of dealing with corporate customers is that the human relationship happens at many different levels with many different people. Some have buying influence but many don’t. Parts of the customer population love you, parts actively don’t. All sorts of politics, influence and agendas come in – all based on human emotion, financial and project pressures. Who do you have the relationship with? Clearly everyone – but some are important and some aren’t. Some are 3rd party partners etc.

To an extent this is why I am not 100% sold on customer satisfaction surveys – it’s not that they are not valuable but they give such a narrow snapshot of the whole relationship and lull people into a false sense of security.

I wanted to raise this because I sense that many of the responses to these types of posts tend to have the customer as a single entity. The corporate world is far more complicated. Having said that if you can get the people right at grass roots level a lot of the other stuff flows well from that.

 

Thank you, Paul for thinking from many angles. I often like to think that colleagues and peers are also customers. There are many dependencies within organizational processes that if not satisfied will prevent a company from providing good customer experiences.

While it matters how we think about customer relationships and approach the opportunities we have to begin or continue these conversations with a mindset and attitude of service, I think that lofty goals of creating definitions may be just that — ambitious attempts at reducing the complex mechanism of economics and human relationships to a pithy statement. Which in turn might reduce our ability to think expansively and helpfully. We are talking about relationships and conversation after all, they are quite fluid and personal.

Do we really need a mission statement to know that customers come first? Or is this just another internal exercise that might exonerate us from taking action in the right direction? The human kind.

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • www.conversationagent.com

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