Customer relationships: Three lessons, Two Words and One Silver Bullet.

Customer relationships: Three lessons, Two Words and One Silver Bullet.

I’m a student of customer relationships and I’ve learned three important things.

First, I’ve learned that the foundation of any long-lasting customer relationship comes down to two words: trust and respect. I’ve got to feel the love, that you’ve got my back. There’s plenty of other stuff, but at the core, there’s trust and respect, which I’d like to have throughout all my business relationships, thank you. It encourages me to assume the long-term. Otherwise, it’s short-term and transactional. Mr. Money never left the room, but his voice gets a lot louder when the discussion is about a transaction.

Many times I’ve used a doctor/patient relationship as a metaphor for the manifestation of trust and respect. However idealized, you want your customers to see you as the best, the expert, the doctor, which is the expert, personalized. “The” doctor becomes “my” doctor. Of course my doctor gets paid but I respect her knowledge and I trust that she is doing everything she can to make me a better, healthier person.

Next, I’ve learned that you can’t take trust and respect for granted. Let me tell you a quick story:

I saw my doctor a while ago and she told me that she was quite relieved. Her practice was bought by a regional chain, and this would both give her more time, and more financial stability. “This will not change our relationship,” she told me.

I got a reminder call the day before my appointment last week. If I were to adapt this to my practice, it might read like this:

I am confirming your meeting with Scott on (day / time / place). Please come prepared with your agenda, input and questions, and your initial deposit, which will be required before the start of the meeting.

Ok. That’s crazy – it would be suicide. I mean this to illustrate my point.

Trust and respect are perishable. The well has got to be replenished with every interaction. Or, you could let it run dry, your call. For instance, your customer gets a crazy voice-mail-meeting-reminder. They don’t say, oh, this message was obviously done by someone with a tin ear. They’d say, Scott’s gone crazy.

Customer interaction is random and messy, but trust and respect must be manifest throughout. It’s all in the details, or you change the foundation of the relationship from “it’s all about you” to “I need to get paid first”. It fracks the foundation. Mr. Money has your ear and he makes everything sound like a commodity.

The last thing I learned is the silver bullet: a customer relationship may be a dance, but you have to lead. The onus is on you, relationships are work. You have to re-earn, replenish that trust and respect everyday, in every way. It’s your responsibility to ensure consistency. I’d also like to add that bad customer experiences are fun – to retell, post, tweet, blog….

I went to my local CVS yesterday and I noticed they had something new, which sure looks like in-house primary care. In fact, the signs spoke about care with no appointment necessary. I didn’t see any mention of money.

Of course, the crazy robo-reminders are throughout the medical industry now. If the one from my doc speaks to the culture of the new medical company, all these speak to the culture of the industry. It’s a bellwether that Elvis has left the building. I’d expect big changes.

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