Businesses in the service sector understand the importance of their relationships with customers. Modern technology has made customer relationship building and management significantly easier, and more accessible for businesses with large customer bases – in a variety of industries. Technology and the adaptation of a ‘service mind-set’ enables businesses to build valuable relationships with their customers.

Mass services need not be impersonal

Corporate lawyers and wealth managers are generally good relationship builders. They use a sophisticated and personal service approach to grow and retain their very valuable clients. Banks and telecommunications businesses – offering standardised services to the masses – tend to offer an impersonal service approach.  This need not be the case; providers of mass services can develop valuable customer relationships.

Relationships go through phases and stages

Comparing a customer relationship to a personal relationship helps to spot simple opportunities to improve the quality of most mass-market services. Analysing three key phases of a personal relationship helps to see how customer relationship thinking can benefit business situations. Let’s explore; the early days, the first disagreement and cementing for the long-term.

Relationships go through phases and stages
Organisations can build relationships using different channels. Key is being able to have the kind of conversation according to the customers phase or stage in their lifecycle.

The early days: establishing a healthy rapport

The early days of a personal relationship are exciting and intense. The same is true for a relationship connecting customers with business. Customers are generally more excited and attentive during their first interactions with a brand. Early day excitement is not to be wasted – this phase is an opportunity to convince customers that they made a good decision choosing your brand .  It is also the time to ensure customers that you care. During this phase a little extra communications can go a long way – and it will prevent issues during later stages.

A new customer tends to know less about your offer than you do. There will be plenty of moments that surprise your customers. Customers like simplicity. They will be surprised when they receive their first invoice and they have to phone you to question it. If you help your customers understand how things work and how to read the bill – before they receive one – they will be happier when it hits the doormat.

Customer experience vs. customer relationship

While there is a relationship between customer experience and customer relationship, one does not automatically lead to another. A good experience impacts the attitude of customers towards the brand or organisation, while a relevant experience builds trust.

The first disagreement; continue or quit?

Things go wrong. Your response to an incident is what makes the difference. A great response to an unpleasant event is human, empathetic and flexible. When your response is mechanical and one-sided – customers will walk away. Great responses to incidents can significantly improve customer loyalty.

An interesting example of a poor response comes from the energy industry. Customers of a gas company found that their voluntary meter readings resulted in blunt payment demands. They felt that they were treated like debtors for volunteering their meter information. A better response would have been a thank-you from the utility business, followed by fair payment terms.

89% of Consumers purchase from a competitor following a poor customer experience

Strengthening for the long-term; recognising value

Long-term relationships offer comfort – the comfort of knowing and understanding each other better. For long-term customers expect different treatment compared to new customers. Treating long-term customers the same or even worse than new customer causes disproportionate irritation. These irritations may not cause customers to switch immediately, but they do tend to take additional business elsewhere – meaning companies miss the opportunity to do more with customers.

Banks are known to cause irritations. Many people stay with a bank for decades to find out that the years make no difference. People expect banks to know more, but when applying for a new service many customers find banks do not know or understand them at all.

The opportunity to strategically recognise long-term customers and build depth to the relationship is severely neglected.

True customer relationships are achievable

It is easier to do more with the customers you have than to win new ones. Most organisations aren’t very good at doing more with their customers – many don’t even try. Doing more with customers is an opportunity to build valuable relationships. Supporting new customers, responding to issues in a human manner and valuing long-term customers allows businesses to cultivate better relationships and watch them flourish.

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