4 Relationship Lessons Learned During Real Life Customer Adventures

I have been noticing of late how good communications, rewarding customer experiences, and the feeling (or lack thereof) of being heard has impacted my own shopping. So I have written up a few particular adventures for this month’s issue of The Measurement Advisor, which traditionally focuses on relationships and trust.

Those of you familiar with relationship theory know that communal relationships—those in which each side feels listened to and appreciated—are the often-unmet goal of companies with regard to their customers. Too often what exists instead is an exchange relationship—in which benefits are given with the expectation of receiving a comparable benefit in return, i.e., give me a like and we’ll send you a coupon to buy our stuff. As we shall see, the former is much preferred over the latter.

The following stories of relationship lessons begin with a couple of tragedies. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending…

No return at the bank

I recently closed an account at a small local bank that I have been using for decades. On the surface, it was because they have no electronic communications ability. But, looking deeper, it was due to a lack of balance in our relationship.

As I said, this institution had no always-available support. Which meant that any weekend problems I had with them had to wait until Monday, when I could reach them on the phone. But Monday is inconvenient for me; it’s the day when I typically catch up with clients and my long list of work to-dos. Invariably it would be 5:15 and I’d realize that I’d again forgotten to call the bank. In the meantime deposits went missing, fees would add up, and everything took days to process.

And thus my relationship with the bank was unbalanced. I could not conveniently communicate with them, yet their exorbitant fees could and would hit my account anytime, 24/7. So, I closed the account.

Lesson 1: Your ads may talk about how much you care about your customers, but if your use of technology says the opposite, those marketing dollars are wasted.

ASUS support does not compute

My bad relationship with ASUS, the company that made my old laptop, began with a tweet. My one-year-old high-end ASUS laptop was slower than my little Microsoft Surface tablet, so I wondered if upgrading the memory might help. Nowhere on their website could I find an answer, so, like many of us, I took to Twitter to find an answer.

Several suggestions proved unfruitful, and then an ASUS customer service rep offered to help. After a week of to-and-fro, they sent me a customer service number which I called. After an hour on the phone I finally spoke to a human being, who told me he couldn’t solve my problem. I went back and reconnected with the social media support team, who seemed to only respond after about four o’clock in the afternoon.

After even more to-and-fro they finally determined that my warranty had expired. I would therefore have to send in my laptop and pay $80 to find out what was wrong. That was the end of that relationship.

Lesson 2: Listening to customers on social media only works if you actually solve a problem.

Geek Squad earns a reward

So I took my ailing laptop to the Geek Squad. It wasn’t the first time I’d been there, and a friendly staffer recognized me. Which is always a nice thing. She looked at the laptop, looked at me, looked at it again, then announced, “I’m done with this. Go pick out a new laptop.” They gave me full credit, thanks to my recently-renewed extended warranty. The heavens opened and angels sang. Say what you want about Best Buy, the Geek Squad gets it right a lot.

Now, if this was a purely rational world, I would have picked out a new machine of comparable price. But we aren’t rational, and the warm glow of a satisfied relationship enchanted my typically frugal brain. As a result I threw budget to the wind and bought my dream machine, a Surface Laptop.

Lesson 3: If you come through for a customer and solve their problem, then you’ve won their loyalty. They will probably spend more money with you.

A tall handsome stranger walks into a bar…

Even my choice of a new laptop was based on a relationship adventure. Several years ago, I was having a nightcap at the hotel bar after a speech, and a tall handsome stranger sat down next to me. After watching me respond to emails on my iPad mini for a while, he turned to me and said, “You look like you need a real computer, you should look at a Surface.” Then he smiled, and with a twinkle and a grin said, “I’m on the board, I have to say stuff like that.”

He introduced himself, and, what do you know, he was in fact Chairman of the Board of Directors of Microsoft. He bought me another glass of wine and we traded stories. Turns out our paths had crossed decades before, when I was at Lotus and he was working for IBM, which had then been in the process of acquiring us.

A week later my iPad was stolen and, against everyone’s advice, I did not get another Apple, I bought a Surface 3. So that’s why, when I was standing at the Best Buy counter with a fat refund to spend, I headed for the Surface display. I ended up spending far more than my refund, but feeling great about the entire experience.

Lesson 4: Relationships trump marketing any day of the week.

The moral of the story

In each of these stories of relationship lessons I was a customer that a company had spent many marketing dollars to attract. The point of each story is that my loyalty was either lost by a stupid systemic flaw or won by a human being. In both cases of loss, the company and I had an exchange relationship, and the company cared only for what it could get from me. But when companies cultivated a communal relationship, our loyalty to each other paid huge dividends. Which sort of relationship do you nurture with your customers? ∞

(Thanks to Alexas on Pixabay for the image.)

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About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.