Raising the bar: Customer relationships

by · August 29, 20147 comments

The past few months I have been a little focused, some may say obsessed, with lowering the bar. From my post on creating less content to my ideas on having a point in your social media marketing. I’ve been talking about being more deliberate, I’ve encouraged people to lower the bar in terms of being useful instead of human and being a trusted resource instead of a thought leader. Well, today, I want us to raise the bar on one thing: customer relationships.

People are publishers now. These people are your customers. And we desperately want to be in a relationship with them, the kind of relationship where they trade money for our stuff over and over again. But really, it’s a transactional relationship. It’s fleeting. And it is on-demand. When they need the stuff we have to sell, the come see us. Until then, we don’t register in the daily life of our publishing customer. Are there epic exceptions to this idea? Absolutely. But generally speaking, we are a little more clingy in this relationship. We spend a lot of time emailing, texting, calling, sending her mail. And a really small percentage of the time, she responds. Basically, we’re the overbearing, wanna-be partner.

Data ≠ Relationship

CustomerFirst of all we need to recognize that a customer relationship is more than the transaction and WAY more than having an email address. Having a relationship with a customer, like with actual human people is deeper than either of these two tests that we normally view as a customer relationship. Relationships are two-way and should be mutually beneficial. They are not always one party waving their arms at the other party saying “Hey! Over here!” This is where many brands live. Many brands think that having an email address = relationship. This is simply not the case. An email address is a piece of data. It is an indicator that you have a form that someone filled out to get something. In the best cases, the person who filled out the form checks that email address. In a lot more cases, that is their “spam account”. So, the first step in building a relationship is admitting we currently don’t have a relationship at all; we have a piece of data that may or may not be relevant.

Find out what she wants

Customer relationships are valuable and if we really want to build one, we need to implement features that build trust and give the customer some authority over their data and your use of it. And I do not mean 100,000 word privacy policies that no one reads. I mean things like asking her how she wishes to be contacted, if at all. How frequently she’d like to be contacted, if at all. And what would she like to receive from your brand? Then design content around those interests. Is this a perfect approach, nope, not at all, people will still pick the first choice in the list, but it is a little more useful to her by at least asking what kind of things she likes. These small changes show her you care about what she wants out of the relationship. It also might show you that your relationship is tenuous at best. You might see a lot of people say they don’t want to receive messages from you. Most people are too lazy to opt out; they simply delete or set up a separate email account for marketing messages because it is insanely easy to set up an email account. It isn’t sometimes as easy to opt out. Finding out her preferences and then living up to what you say, you will win trust, but you will still only have better data. But, at least you have an understanding of her preferences.

Let’s have a two-way!

When you have a better sense of the types of information she wants from you, start crafting content that helps her get that information from both you and from other sources. If she is looking for new ways to use your product, share your ideas, but also share the ideas of others. If she wants to get inspiration, inspire her and curate in content from others that inspire her. Ask her how she uses the product and what she would tell others to inspire them. Include her in the conversation.

In relationships, it isn’t a one-sided arrangement. It takes two parties to be in a relationship and if we want to have a relationship with our customers, we need to start caring about what they want out of the relationship beyond trading money for our products. It’s time to raise the bar on customer relationships and remember that a relationship is grounded in respect and trust by both parties.

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About Tracey Parsons

Tracey Parsons

Since 1995, Tracey has been developing digital solutions. Currently SME Digital’s lead strategist, she continues to be dedicated to bringing cutting edge, thoughtful and measurable solutions to marketers. With more than 15 years in digital, Tracey not only brings vision, but the tools and strategies to execute against complex next generation concepts. She has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands to develop and devise cutting-edge social, mobile and digital marketing practices.

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  • Madi

    Great article. I agree. Recently I have been trying to help small local restaurants with their social media strategies and I find that having conversation and response to comments, etc extremely important. The reason the customers have been wanting to come back is a lot to do with the food and atmosphere, but is increasingly because of growing relationships with the owners who can greatly improve these relationships through social media.

  • Virginia Harris

    A much needed article. There is too many companies out there just trying to meet and email capture quota everyday and I feel they lose the sense of the meaning behind gaining someones email. In this age we want/need to learn about our customer so learning their needs through email is what we should be focusing on, not just throwing promotions and information at them.

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